One of the most important choices you'll
make when buying a Russian tortoise is "where can I buy a
healthy one?" .
There are quite a few choices. Following are a few and the pros and cons of each. Followed by some advice on picking out a healthy tortoise.
Pet shops: The most common place to buy a Russian tortoise is at a pet shop. However, when choosing an animal from a pet shop the most important consideration is the pet shop itself. Many pet shops keep their exotic animals in deplorable conditions. But there are many fine shops with very caring employees and owners. These can be a wonderful source of supplies for animals as well as purchasing new pets. The best way to find a good pet shop is word-of-mouth. When you find what you think is a good store, pay close attention to what it's like when you first walk through the door. Does it smell clean? Does it look organized? Look at the fish tanks...are the fish healthy or are other dead fish floating around? Take a look the tortoises. Are different species housed together?
Further down I will go into more detail about finding that perfect Russian.
Reptile shows: Reptile shows are becoming increasingly popular across United States. Many cities have monthly shows. Reptile shows have many of the same problems as pet shops. Some of vendors are excellent and others have very little knowledge about their animals. Another drawback of the shows, is that many animals are housed in close quarters with other species. This can lead to cross contamination and health problems. However with careful selection and asking good questions you can often end up with a very healthy specimen.
The Internet can be broken down into three major categories.
1) individual sellers : On many of the lists you can find many individuals that have animals for sale. One place to look is in forums such as Kingsnake or Yahoo! group. When buying from the individual is important to get references. There are those who will sell you animals that are unhealthy and poor quality. Also there are others that will take your money and never send you the animal. It's always wise to purchase using your Visa card so that you can dispute the charges if problems occur.
2) online stores and breeders: There are many fine online stores. Once again is important to ask for references.
3) rescue groups: There are many rescue organizations that have abused or unwanted tortoises that need new homes this can actually be one of the best ways of obtaining an animal. However some animals can be "flawed" in appearance or have health problems. An excellent reptile rescue group is The Turtle Rescue of Long Island.
The biggest problem with ordering animals online is you can't pick them out personally. It is always wise to get an agreement up front on how it will be handled if the animal arrives in poor condition. Be sure to ask if there are any guarantees.
Choosing a Healthy Tortoise
Now that you've decided on where to buy your animal, you need to know what to look for to make sure it is healthy. If you're buying from a pet shop, or reptile show, or any source for you can see the animal before you purchase it....there is important things to look for. If you bought it on line....check it carefully when it arrives. Following is a checklist designed to help you get started. It's not meant to be all-inclusive...the bottom line is you have to trust your own feelings.
-- Look at the tortoises cage. Is it over crowded? Does it smell? Are there more than one species of tortoise? Is it housed with aquatics or worse with lizards? -- Does it have fresh food and water?
-- Is it active?
-- Ask if you can hold it...how does it feel? Does it feel light like an empty shell? Or does it feel surprisingly heavy? If it is light it could indicate dehydration, malnourishment or heavy parasite load.
-- Listen to it breathe...do you hear anything? Any rasping? Gurgling? Snoring sounds? Abnormal sounds probably indicates respiratory problems.
-- How about the shell? Is it relatively smooth (growth rings are ok) or does it look lumpy? A lumpy shell is usually a sign of improper diet. This can forecast future health problems with the tortoise.
Does the shell have any white spots (that looks like exposed bone) that could indicate dry shell rot. Are there any spots on the shell that are flaking (another sign of shell rot). Are there any soft spots or spots that have an odor? Some examples of healthy shells can be found in the pictures throughout the site.
-- Look into its eyes... are they clear. Shiny black? Very alert? Or are the dull, sunken in or full of mucus.
-- Check its nose...is it dry and clean? Or is it plugged? Are there bubbles?
-- Look at its mouth...does it look like it has a beak? Does it look deformed?
-- How about its feet? Are the toenails overgrown?
-- Look at its tail... is a clean and dry? Or is a caked with feces?
A Sick tortoise may only cost $40 to buy....but could end up
costing hundreds of dollars in vet bills. Remember a healthy
tortoise is not only a pleasure to own, but may outlive us both!
I hope this has been of help. Nothing will guarantee a perfectly healthy animal. But if you follow these guidelines, you'll be off to a great start.