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Currently available from Betta Trading: Macquarie Short necked tortoises.
 
Tortoise Keeping in South Australia
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There are two species of tortoise which can be kept in South Australia without a permit.  These are the Macquarie Short necked tortoise, sometimes called the River Murray Tortoise (Emydura macquarii) this is the one more commonly kept in aquariums.  The other one is a long necked tortoise; (Chelodina longicollis).
These two species are common in the wild but it is illegal to catch them.  The tortoises sold in shops should all have been bred in captivity.  Most tortoises are hatched in about January.  Sometimes shops will run out later in the year.
 
Tortoise or Turtle?
 
In the world there are many species of tortoises and turtles; some terrestrial and some aquatic, although all lay their eggs on land.  It is instructive that Australia with an enormous variety of land habitats does not have any terrestrial tortoises.  There are many species of water dwelling tortoises or turtles, in both fresh and salt water.
There are many definitions of tortoise or turtle.  One is that turtles have flippers and tortoises have feet.  On this definition the turtles are the large sea going ones and nearly all the rest are tortoises.  Another definition is that turtles are the water ones.  Which name you prefer depends partly on what country you come from.  Many Americans would call our fresh water members of this group turtles.  In Australia both names are used, and, especially in speech, I am also inconsistent in which name I use.  For the purpose of this booklet I will call them tortoises.
 
Tortoises in the Wild
 
The Macquarie Short-necked Tortoise is native to the Murray Darling River system.  The long necked species normally kept is native to fairly extensive areas including the Adelaide Hills.  The mother tortoise comes out of the water to lay her eggs in spring.  To find a suitable site for burying the eggs the mother will go considerable distances.  After digging themselves up the babies have to find their own way to water.
The baby tortoises will feed on small creatures in the water such as wrigglers (mosquito larvae), Daphnia (water fleas), and other tiny crustaceans as well as water plants, snail and fish eggs, tiny snails and a variety of other natural foods.
Tortoises of all sizes come out of the water onto rocks, branches etc to sun themselves.  This is important to their health.  It enables them to produce vitamin D as well as to dry out their skin and shells.  Baby tortoises spend nearly all their time in the water, but as they get older they will come out more and get some of their food from the land.  The Australian tortoises have only a limited ability to swallow food out of water, often taking it into water to eat.
Our tortoises do not need to come out of the water to rest.
 
Housing
 
Tortoises live mainly in the water, especially for the first few years of their life.  Most young tortoises are kept in an aquarium with some arrangement for them to come out of the water.  This can be a rock, a shelf built into the tank, a floating island or some other form of dry land.
Although they may not spend much time out of the water, the opportunity to dry out and to bask in the light (either natural or artificial) is beneficial.
 
Water
 
In South Australia the mains water is safe for tortoises after the Chlorine or Chloramine has been removed.  Chlorine, and the chlorine part of Chloramine, can be removed by adding one of the common aquarium water conditioners, such as Wardley’s ‘Tristart’, Aquarium Pharmaceutical’s  ‘Super Strength Tap Water Conditioner’, Science products ‘Complete Water Conditioner’, etc.  Beware that for some areas of South Australia, including the Adelaide Hills, the level of Chloramine added is very high and up to five times the recommended dose of water conditioner may need to be used.
Good quality rain water can be used, but beware of rain water collected in areas with a lot of spraying, as, for example, orchards.  A rainwater conditioner should be added if rainwater is used.
Most bore and spring waters are suitable for tortoises.  If you are uncertain about the acidity of you water, you can purchase a test kit to measure it.  If you prefer not to test the water yourself, you can take it into your local aquarium shop and have it tested.  A good aquarium shop will do simple tests like this free of charge.
Tortoises are not particularly worried by alkaline conditions, but prolonged acidity is bad for them.  A neutraliser block will help to prevent acidity as well as adding calcium to the water.
 
Light
 
Unlike most fish, tortoises do have a requirement for light.  It seems to be necessary for them to be able to bask out of the water in either natural daylight, or artificial light of similar colour and fairly high intensity.  An aquarium light can provide this, but the use of a tube designed for reptiles would be better.
The best light is natural sunlight, not filtered through glass or water.  However if the tortoise is exposed to sunlight, you must be careful to avoid it getting too hot.
 
Temperature
 
In the wild tortoises  are active in the warmer seasons of the year and hibernate during the winter.  To hibernate tortoises need sufficient reserves of fat.  They also need cold enough conditions.
In a house, in the winter it is usually too warm for the tortoise to hibernate, but not warm enough for it to stay active and eating.  A related problem with house conditions in the winter is that sometimes the tortoise can eat, then it gets cold, and is not able to digest the food which can go rotten and kill the tortoise.
In some houses there is a room kept warm enough for a tortoise, but the usual way of keeping your tortoise at a healthy temperature is to use an aquarium heater.  Around 23̊ C is a suitable setting for the thermostat.
Tortoises do not need to hibernate.  Outside where they would normally hibernate, they typically come onto land and bury themselves under  leaves etc.  They can hibernate in water, but do not usually do this.
 
Food
 
The best foods for a pet tortoise are the frozen or dried foods designed for them.  These foods have sufficient Calcium and protein as well as a suitable complement of vitamins, including vitamin D.
The most popular brand of frozen food  in Australia is made by the Fish Fuel Co, and sold as ‘Turtle Dinner’.  Good dried foods are made by several reputable companies, including Wardley, Aqua One and Sera.
Tortoises can be given a wide variety of other foods.  One they particularly like is frozen blood worms.  Live mealworms can be given as a treat, but are not a balanced food.  Earth worms, slaters and suitable size insects can be used as a supplement, as can a bit of fish or mince meat.
 
Feeding
 
Young active turtles can be fed twice a day.  Be guided by how much they east.  Tortoises will not overeat, but uneaten food will quickly rot and foul the water.
As the weather gets colder, your tortoise will become less active unless the water is heated.  It is safer for the tortoise to kept warm and active, especially in its first winter.
 
Cleaning
 
 Tortoises are much less likely to get problems if they are kept in clean conditions; a tortoise tank should not be allowed to become dirty or smelly.
Any uneaten food should be removed.  Both for this and for a regular cleaning a gravel washer is very useful.  It can save you a lot of time.  It is better to not let you tank get to the stage of needing to be cleaned out.  If it does become necessary, the Tortoise can be taken out, and can be kept out of water for a few hours, if necessary.
 
Health and Diseases.
 
Tortoises can get skin problems caused by fungus or bacteria.  There are several preventative medications available; for example the occasional addition of Wardley ‘Fungus ade’ may help to prevent problems, or cure minor ones in the early stages.
A major preventative is to take your turtle out in the sun for a while.  To be effective, the tortoise should not be in the water while it is in the sun.  Water filters out most of the ultraviolet in sunlight.
Common sense needs to be applied to this suggestion.  If the tortoise is allowed to, it will walk off.  It is also very vulnerable to predatory or curious animals such as dogs, cats, foxes, kookaburras and other birds.  Also, be aware of the temperature.  It would not take long for a tortoise to die in conditions of extreme heat.
If a skin infection does occur, you can use Betadine ointment on the affected area of skin.  Betadine is available from a chemist or pet shop.
 
©Copyright is claimed for the text  and video by Steve Challis, May 2008; the present booklet is an expanded version of a fact sheet written by Steve Challis in 1994. 
 

 
 
 
 
 
Eastern Long-Necked Tortoise, Chelodina longicollis
 
 
  Macquarie Short Necked Tortoises Basking on a Log.
By Bidgee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
 
Two Macquarie Short Necked Tortoises on a log at Warrawong Sanctury in the Adelaide Hills.  Many of the Tortoises at this sanctuary are former pets that have grown too big to keep in an aquarium.  Often the child who owned them is now an adult and has left home.
 
By Peripitus (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
 
 
Long Necked Tortoises Climbing onto a log.
Photo by John O'Neill
By jjron (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons