the Horsfield's or Russian tortoise has unfortunately greatly expanded
following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. Repeated seizures
of illegal shipments have now resulted in the need for greater practical
maintenance information being made available as many more enthusiasts
may find themselves encountering this species.
or injured specimens
A high proportion of legally traded and an even higher proportion
of seized specimens are severely stressed and suffer from a variety of
traumatic injuries and contagious diseases. The shipping conditions frequently
leave much to be desired, and most animals are subject to faecal contamination
and extreme temperature variations in transit. Of particular note is Hexamita
parva, a highly damaging parasite of the renal and urinary system. This
organism has been identified frequently in T. horsfieldi and if
untreated leads to rapid weight loss, dehydration and terminal renal failure.
It responds to oral dosing with Metronidazole (Flagyl) at 260mg/kg. Other
symptoms include thick or slimy urine which often smells strongly of ammonia.
It is imperative that hydration is maintained in affected animals and
that precautions are taken to prevent contagion of adjacent stock. Routine
urine tests should be carried out on all suspect animals. It should also
be noted that Horsfield's tortoises have proved susceptible to epidemics
of viral disease (Lange, et.al. 1989) and should be regarded as potential
carriers of Herpes-type organisms. All other health problems are diagnosed,
and treated, as per T. hermanni or T. graeca.
of stock and quarantine
It is highly
inadvisable to mix T. horsfieldi with other species. Not only are
there potential health risks in so doing, but the structure and behaviour
of T. horsfieldi renders them incompatible with most other tortoises.
For example, male T. horsfieldi are typically highly aggressive
and can inflict severe bites, especially around the face and eyes. Females
are also poorly protected against the "butting" or "ramming"
behaviour of species such as T. graeca or T. ibera (a behaviour
pattern not engaged in by male Horsfield's). Severe traumatic injuries
are a frequent consequence of mixing Horsfield's with other species. No
safe minimum quarantine period can be recommended even where 'new' Horsfield's
are to be introduced to existing colonies of the same species: 12 months
should be adequate to eliminate most cases of Hexamita, but indefinite
quarantine may be necessary to offer complete protection against viral
(or mycoplasma) organisms. Routine worming is also recommended before
new stock is introduced to old.
has a high tolerance of both extreme heat and extreme cold, and in the
wild survives these conditions by either hibernating or aestivating. In
captivity, it is essential to provide a very secure pen as these tortoises
are exceptionally agile and persistent escapers, capable of burrowing
underground tunnels several metres long. They are also excellent climbers.
External pen walls should ideally be 'dug in' with at least 30mm of wire
mesh set into the ground. In summer, T. horsfieldi is active outdoors
throughout Britain and most of Europe, but should be provided with good
protection from rain and damp, to both of which it has a poor tolerance.
A cold, dry Horsfield's tortoise can survive for some considerable time;
a cold, damp Horsfield's tortoise is likely to succumb to pneumonia very
quickly. In prolonged spells of cold and wet weather, T. horsfieldi
is best removed to an indoor terrarium equipped with a basking lamp and
as for T. graeca and T. hermanni. A high fibre, low protein and
calcium rich diet will ensure good digestive tract function and smooth
growth. Horsfield's tortoises fed on cat or dog food frequently die from
renal failure or from impacted bladder stones of solidified urates. Avoid
over reliance upon 'supermarket' greens and fruits which typically contain
inadequate fibre levels, excessive pesticide residues and are too rich
in sugar. Fruits should be given very sparingly to this species as they
frequently lead to diarrhoea and colic.
As for T.
graeca and T. hermanni. Horsfield's tortoises can prove difficult
to 'settle' in hibernation, and may scrape the bottom out of cardboard
boxes. A plywood box is recommended. Recently imported specimens should
not be hibernated unless they are in excellent condition. Suspect specimens
should be over wintered in a warm, dry and well ventilated terrarium.
An indoor pen is infinitely better than a 'fishtank' type terrarium.
Highfield, A. C. (1992)
Testudo horsfieldi (GRAY 1844) A brief review of its Biology, Ecology
and Captive Breeding. ASRA Monographs Vol.2(2):9-15.
Lange, Herbst, Wiechert,
Schliesser (1989) Elektronenmikroskopischer Nachweis von Herpesviren bei
einem Massensterben von griechischen Landschildkroten (Testudo hermanni)
und Vierzehenschildkroten (Agrionemys horsfieldii). Tierarztl.