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RE: Is digging a real problem?

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Posted by: tglazie at Sat Apr 12 05:51:22 2008  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by tglazie ]  

Florida Box Turtles and Florida Gopher Tortoises are sympatric species, meaning they occupy the same range and much of the same habitat. In this respect, they can generally be kept together, especially if given a sizable habitat in which to roam. Having lost several tortoises from what I can only deduce as being a condition of cross-contamination, I am personally against keeping different species together. Also, having practiced the tradition myself, I find keeping species separate groups to be the preferred way to go.

Keeping species separate is not only about disease prevention, which granted is poorly understood, but I always found the practice to be one of safety. Certain species of tortoise are highly aggressive and should be kept singly. I have a large male sulcata who enjoys mounting and battling everything with a shell. Given the extreme damage he is capable of inflicting, I consider it unwise to offer him any pen mates. I recently acquired a young male black greek tortoise who does nothing but fight. He even attacks a dead RES shell I found one day on a Sabinal river bank. I have to keep him housed by himself as well. Certain tortoises are far too aggressive to be kept with others, and as these animals are not by any means social, I see no problem in fixing separate quarters for such creatures.

Now, I must admit that I have no experience keeping red foots and sulcatas together, but I have kept both species, and their care requirements are quite different. Sulcatas prefer it dry (though they can live in humid weather, I realize), graze on grasses and coarse weeds, grow to be large, aggressive animals. Red foots prefer moderately humid environs with standing water (a sulcata no-no, given their tendency to rapidly befoul and trounce everything in their path), mixed diets of lush greens, fruit, and marginal meat content, and are generally exceedingly curious and nonaggressive. Are sulcatas aggressive toward redfoots? Has anyone seen a situation of such? I've read of sulcatas pummeling aldabras to death, and I've seen footage of male sulcatas attempting to mate with female leopards (a behavior that should not be encouraged, in my opinion, as these species are separated by both habitational niches and geographic features). Both species also have a tendency toward corphagous behavior (the fecal consumption habit you mentioned in regard to dogs). How can you be sure they aren't consuming one another's leavings? How quickly could disease spread in such a situation? Though I'm no pathologist and don't know the answers to these questions, this seems like a big risk to me. Also, how do you keep the sulcatas from consuming too much fruit? When you feed the redfoots high protein products, do the sulcatas get their share of the meat they are not supposed to have? Or do you feed the animals separately? Certainly, this may not be a problem for you guys, but I don't think one can say this for certain about every situation in which keepers would be keeping these species together.

Now, I'm not the type of self-righteous idiot who goes about telling people they're the devil for keeping different species together, because this is their perrogative, and they may be right (there could be nothing demonstrably wrong with doing this). We live in a free country, and so long as there is no law against it, I can't even see anything legitimately wrong with even going so far as eating chelonia (so long as they were legally acquired, legally and humanely butchered, and not endangered). However, as this is a forum where we may freely express our opinions and concerns regarding the keeping of sulcatas and leopards, I have to say that I don't agree with keeping nonsympatric species together. I find it especially disagreeable when it comes to other more delicate species. I could never justify keeping a radiated tortoise, impressed tortoise, star tortoise, gopher/desert/Texas tortoise, pancake tortoise, South African Tent tortoise, Hingeback or Mediterranean tortoise in a mixed group. These species are far too rare and sensitive, though among the Testudo complex, the hybridization problem combined with the behavioral incompatibility is simply too great. I can tell you from experience that Greeks and Marginateds do not get along. I've raised these species together in the past, and though they appear to get along just fine as hatchlings, these animals do grow up, and the male greeks will butt and strike with their gular scutes while the marginated males make every attempt to bite and immobilize their opponent. Real damage can be wrought in these situations, and rather than keeping antibacterial cream at close reach, I find it much more effective to eliminate the chances of any combat injury entirely by maintaining males separately and/or singly depending upon aggression displayed.

Whether one decides to keep species together or not is their perrogative, but my hope is that anyone who does this does so responsibly, just as I'm sure we all do. Quarantine of new arrivals (especially wild-caught new arrivals), disease detection and prevention, and minimization of aggression and behavioral incompatibility should always be standard practice for anyone keeping these animals.



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