A tortoise was discovered 34 years ago, buried in our neighbour’s compost heap. Local enquiries were made but nobody claimed him. Our neighbour didn’t want to keep him. Encouraged by our four-year-old daughter and sure that our garden was secure (which our neighbour’s clearly wasn’t) we decided to give him a home.
A little internet research told us all we needed to know about caring for this new member of the family but we were ill prepared. During his first winter he hibernated under some hay in a cardboard box, in a frost-free place indoors, and surprised us all by waking up at the beginning of January, far earlier than expected. However, for the period between waking and living outdoors we bought and modified a rabbit hutch in which he would have plenty of space to live indoors and move about until it was warm enough to go out. The modification consisted of replacing the back of the hutch with clear perspex to allow more light into the hutch. Tortoises are cold-blooded creatures whose lives are governed by light and temperature.
Henry, that being the name we gave him (I wasn’t sure of his gender at first so was keeping “Henrietta” in reserve in case he turned out to be a young lady) has been with us for 34 years now, so we must be doing something right. Each year he hibernates at the beginning of October under extra hay in his hutch. From then on he stays in a partitioned area of our garage which contains an anti-frost heater. He starts to move at the beginning of January and his hutch is then moved into the house (for more warmth) and is placed on my desk just inside a window. Here he stays until it is warm enough for him outside for an hour or two each day, increasing until mild enough for him outside full-time, provided that these is no risk of frost, usually sometime in May. His diet consists of copious amounts of lettuce (but not Iceberg for some reason) plus thin slices of apple, a strawberry now and then,dandelions (especially the flowers) and sundry leaves from the garden.
The neighbours’ cats tend to steer well clear of Henry and my only worry is the seagulls which can be a bit too inquisitive at times.
About a fortnight ago Henry changed his routine. Instead of half burying himself under leaves under a bush at night he started coming off the garden onto the slightly raised paved area behind the house and then onto the slightly higher paved area by the kitchen door and garage. We found him there three afternoons in succession and concluded that he wanted to be put in his hutch overnight once the sun was no longer on the lawn. Why he expected us to come out and find him I’ll never know but he has been happy in his hutch every night since. One morning when I go to take him out he will have hibernated and thus the annual cycle will start all over again.