Rehoming - Clarification

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Rehoming - Clarification

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Sep 17, 2010 10:18 am

I am posting this to counter (the usual) rumours and misinformation being circulated about our position on rehoming. The facts are actually simple. I'll try to cover them briefly.

1) We are not "retired" and are not "giving up". I am tempted to say "I wish!", however, that is not the case. We are carrying out more fieldwork than ever before, and are doing a lot of basic, fundamental research on topics that we simply do not know enough about, including wild diets, real-life exposure of tortoises to UV-B in the wild, thermoregulation, estivation and hibernation, nesting and incubation, etc. We are also continuing to study diseases in tortoises (we have made substantial progress in establishing some specific causes of ear abscesses recently, for example), and we are also looking at a number of topics directly related to captive husbandry including lighting design, substrate choice and optimum diets. What we are learning from the field-work is directly translating into new ideas on these topics. That is why doing the basic research is so necessary. There has been too much reliance on ill-informed guesswork in many of these areas. We are collating detailed measurements that will form a much more reliable basis to move things forward. If anyone thinks this is easy or a relaxing way to spend your time - come on out here and see for yourself. After a week of scrambling over several Km of goat trails for three or four hours at a time with ground temperatures over 55C you certainly will need a holiday when you get back.

2) There is a general problem with rehoming that did not exist a few years ago. Initially, the level of trade imports (around 1980-1984) was declining sharply. It then virtually ceased for several years. This meant that the numbers of animals requiring new homes was manageable, and largely involved long-term captives. As we all know, in recent years this situation has changed totally. Many, many thousands of Testudo hermanni and Testudo horsfieldii in particular have been imported and sold often to inexperienced keepers or just people with a passing "fad" via online retailers and pet shops. On top of that, the trade in more "exotic" tropical species has also exploded. Leopard tortoises, Sulcata, Hingebacks... species that require a lot of space or that are not easy to manage in the UK climate have also been sold to anyone with the means to buy them. We have been conducting a study on this trade for over a year and the results are shocking. It will be published soon. The net result, though, is a massive, massive increase in "unwanted" animals. I will be totally honest. There is NO single organisation in the the UK or Europe that has the capacity to deal with this. It is enough to overwhelm anyone. The situation that long affected Green Iguanas and Red-Eared Sliders is now affecting tortoises.

3) Faced with this, anyone (or any organisation) has only two options a) Run a self-contained 'sanctuary' and maintain them all under your own control indefinitely or b) Delegate to volunteers who will take selected animals and maintain them in small, independent groups. There are big problems with both approaches. The first method will be very short term. There is a finite limit to how many you can keep at any location before overcrowding, not to mention the time required to clean, feed and provide health oversight becomes a serious issue. There are only so many hours in a day. Myself and Jill learned that the hard way years ago. If you have hundreds of animals of dozens of species in one place it is the perfect storm for spreading communicable diseases. Herpes in particular is now yet another major problem we have to consider in this context. Then, there is the ongoing cost of providing different environments, different diets, light, heat, meeting health and safety regulations, insurance, etc. It all adds up, dramatically so, as many other sanctuaries are now discovering. So, while this may work in the (very) short term it is not a complete or viable solution. The second option of delegating also has problems. The most obvious of which is that once out of your sight and direct control you cannot possibly know everything that is going on. We have also (sadly) found that some people will happily break every rule you try to lay down and will outright lie about their circumstances or the status of the animals. Within the last few months alone we can catalogue specific instances of: blatant breaches of quarantine, deliberate and calculated concealment (for months) of serious disease outbreaks, point blank refusals to carry out necessary laboratory tests, refusals to report on animals status, refusals to travel even a few miles to see a specialist vet, refusals to follow specific husbandry advice, animals being transferred and moved without our knowledge or consent and so on. It makes grim reading. Animals have died as a result of this. That is partly OUR responsibility. We do not seek to evade it. We should have done better. It is clear our vetting and monitoring system failed in these cases. We are doing everything possible to try to prevent this happening again.

The problem is, however, that with this many animals (and people) involved, it is extremely difficult, verging on almost impossible, to get it right 100% of the time. That is why we are looking again at this whole situation. We certainly cannot go on just taking in everything that comes along. Our objective is to provide the BEST homes we possibly can, not the MOST. That is why we are refocusing our efforts on dealing with a manageable number of animals, and are determined to step up the vetting procedures in particular. We are working on that right now. There is no easy answer to this situation. While the mass influx continues, the problem will only grow.

We have looked to see if there was a viable route to restricting this trade, but at present, that does not appear to be a possibility. One thing we would support is that those who solicit bulk imports should be held 100% accountable for all costs subsequently generated if those animals are seized by the authorities for CITES or welfare violations. That means all veterinary costs, housing costs, maintenance costs - indefinitely. I am sure the government could set something up to administer such a system. It may not be perfect, but then nothing ever is.

Perhaps then, however, those primarily responsible for this problem might think again before adding to the current glut of unwanted "pets".

Rather than spread unfounded gossip and distortions, it would be far better if people interested in this situation referred directly to this post. I would also point out that we welcome genuine suggestions and discussion on the problem and we are entirely open to new ideas on how to address it. It is a problem facing every single tortoise and turtle rescue group in the world right now. It is easy to criticise, but what we really need are viable solutions.

Andy Highfield
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby jeff » Fri Sep 17, 2010 1:45 pm

Andy
Looking at your position on the rehoming front,I think your being to hard on your self.The only thing you can do is set up some sort of a sanctuary which would consume huge amount of money,Or work with other tortoise groups to see if they could help in taking some animals in.The other is of course use the foster homes,Yes im sure that has its problems but there is no other way.You can only release the animals in good faith and trust,Yes you may make a bad choice from time to time,But you are Human.If think you need to look at the bigger picture,Look at the amount of animals the trust have saved and rehome in very good home.The work the trust have done is out standing,And given what you have come up against in the past couple of years i would say you are on top.I can not agree you could do better,These are massive tasks to under take.And at the end of the day you can not save them all,Like i said above you can only trust people to follow the guild lines.There is no magic stick here. :).
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby lorna » Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:33 pm

Andy,

Your post is very interesting.

I could post at great length in reply, but I have to be more economical with words.

One solution to your difficulties would be a satellite hospital here in the UK; a facility with a few rooms providing room for a few dozen tortoises, with supporting hygiene facilities and a local tortoise vet in attendance. It would also require a resident/attending vet nurse. Patently it would also cost money, unfortunately. One of the current difficulties is that whilst you are located in Spain, the general perception may be that you are located away from the needs of tortoises in the UK. You have stated clearly and kindly that you have arrangements in place with UK vets for ongoing care with TT rescue tortoises, thereby overcoming that difficulty, however it is inevitable that those members based in the UK may see matters otherwise.

I wonder if you have considered the possibility of a hospital facility in the UK?

Lorna
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Sep 17, 2010 6:14 pm

We have. We are in fact open to the idea, Lorna. If such a facility could be created it would help in some ways. The problem - the key problem - is that it needs a very dedicated and experienced person to oversee it. It cannot be done at a vets (charging normal veterinary rates) as the costs would be simply enormous. It can turn into a 24/7 job. We know - we did it! The other point is that the "TT Hospital" was always as much about research and writing things up as helping individual animals (as it still is - witness the cases we have been seeing here). So, that also needs to be a part of it. The important thing there is that these cases contribute to knowledge.. and go on to help countless others in similar situations for years to come.

I would say that the perception we are in some way "removed" from the needs of tortoises in the UK is not true at all. What we are doing here will make a big difference to UK animals - in time. We actually felt we had gone about as far as we could in the UK, and that only by going back to basics and learning as much as possible about wild tortoises (UVB requirements, microclimate use, diet, etc.) could we hope to gather the evidence needed to develop improved methods applicable everywhere. A lot of work has been done on wild tortoises of course, but the things we are doing have never been done.

It really is as basic as "how much calcium and UVB do they need?". Answer: right now no-one knows! We are trying to find out.

Back to the hospital idea... yes, we would consider it and consider funding it. I would point out as well, though, that these days there are a heck of a lot of really good specialist tortoise/reptile vets around. When we started the TT Hospital back in the early 80's there were hardly any. So, the system of referring cases to trusted vets is far more viable now than it was back then. In general, that system is working very well. We always did work closely with a succession of specialist vets in any event. A site with a good vet close at hand and capable of providing long term nursing care is certainly something we will look at seriously, however.

We did discuss the possibility that UK keepers might feel "abandoned", and this has been a big concern for us. We tried to overcome that by setting up this forum so that communication was easy, and from early next year will be running courses out here. We also aim to have some UK workshops (as before) to update everyone on the latest research and things we are working on. In addition, any member visiting this area (Almeria/Murcia) is very welcome to just contact us and join us for a day or so to see exactly what we are up to!
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby winnie » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:01 pm

Andy,
On the rehoming front would you not consider what Jeff suggested and see if another reputable tortoise group would join forces with the Tortoise Trust when it comes to dealing with the large hauls. There are some other animal charity groups that are now working side by side when it's needed but the rest of the time are still individuals doing things their own way, under their own name. Another tort rescue would come with more tort owners, experienced/new who could offer their help to. Just a thought!
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:51 pm

The problem with that, Winnie, is that we would still not have direct oversight of everything that goes on and from prior experience, stuff will still happen we would not want to see happen.... we are quite happy to refer some cases on (and do sometimes), however. I do not see a real solution to this until the large scale trade/imports of tortoises ceases, or at least diminishes. There are only so many homes for Leopards, Sulcata, Hingebacks, etc., in the UK. It is the same with Sliders and Green Iguanas. Too many animals. Not enough really good homes. We are at (or near) saturation point. They are still coming in.... a lot of people already belong to several groups/organisations, so there are actually fewer good homes than you might think.
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby winnie » Fri Sep 17, 2010 9:41 pm

Andy, it's a very differcult situation to be in, I think we're all in agreeance with that. As with all things that start out as a fad, they soon become abundant, lose value and unwanted. You see it alot in dog breeds. When the 1001 Dalmations came out on the pics, everyone wanted one. Now they're all over. When a new dog breed is introduced they're expensive, hard to get hold of but everyone wants one, give it a few years down the line they've been bred that much the market is saturated with them and these breeds are then to many. I honestly think that when you're dealing with rescuing and rehoming animals you will never get it right all the time, no matter what you do or how hard you try, it's impossible. I understand that by joining up with another rescue you, as the TT, would not have direct oversight over everything but would you need to if you're working as a team?.Could this oversight be split?. I hope I'm not grabbing the donkey by the tail here instead of the head by saying this. I see this problem day in day out and have done for over 20 years and the only way I can see things getting better for the sake of the animals is for god to wipe out humans and start all over again with the bumblebees. Sorry, that's just my opinion!!
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby Tortoise Trust » Sat Sep 18, 2010 6:48 am

There are two very major problem areas:

1) The number of new imports is creating a huge surge in "unwanted" tortoises and turtles, far in excess of homes readily available.

2) The behaviour and performance of some people who have taken them on has been absolutely appalling. This makes the whole thing even worse, as it takes up valuable time and creates intolerable levels of stress for those of us simply trying to do our best.

Of course, there are also people who have been quietly getting on with doing a wonderful job and are a delight to work with. The practical difficulty is that the actions of the minority who have abused the system (and us) result in yet more unnecessary work, more controls being needed, more checks required, and it all becomes increasingly nonviable. We always tried to work on the basis of mutual respect and trust, and on a smaller scale that can work very well. On a larger scale - it simply doesn't.

You are quite right to identify "human nature" as a key factor, from "I want a tortoise and I don't care where it comes from or what happens to it in a year's time" to those who see rehoming simply as a way to get more animals "for free" and have about as much genuine concern for their welfare as the first lot!
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby Janet » Sat Sep 18, 2010 7:41 am

On the subject of making sure the homes and care provided are up to the standards you would wish for, have you had any more thoughts on area visitors. A couple of years ago when I visited Celia and her husband she mentioned that you might be considering using a few volunteers to visit rehomers and check that everything was ok and up to the standard that you require.
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Re: Rehoming - Clarification

Postby winnie » Sat Sep 18, 2010 9:19 am

Probably a stupid question but is it totally out of the question to be able to return torts back to the wild, a bit like what these people do when they're trying to help the decreasing numbers of certain species?

I understand that some torts come in in bad health but are some of these illnesses/diseases carried by these torts naturally?.
Would it be possible to treat and return?. Could the torts cope with the stress?

I suppose this would probably be a waste of time doing anyway whilst there's still people importing you could end up with the same tort in again!

I did say it's probably a stupid question!
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