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We have received many sad stories about tortoises that didn't make it through last week's winter storm. You adopted a tortoise or a box turtle from Central Texas Tortoise Rescue, and we'd like to know how your animal is doing, how your family is doing, and if there's anything that we can do to help you through these potentially difficult times. 

We as a community have learned some pretty difficult lessons about warm-climate tortoises over the course of the last week. I'd like to share some of the lessons we have learned and some of our recommendations. None of us should own an animal that we haven't researched, we should all be familiar with that animal's native habitat and diet so that we can do our level best to replicate those conditions in captivity.

Warm-climate Tortoises

1. Basic Ecology

For sulcata, red-footed, and leopard tortoises for example, that means their ambient temperature usually stays above 50 degrees F. If you don't already own one, you need to purchase a thermometer for their house. It's easiest to get the kind that Bluetooths right to your phone. We use a brand called Kestrel for this. 

2. Insulated Housing

Whether purchased or built, your warm-climate tortoise needs to have constant access to insulated housing that can help it stay warm in winter and cool in summer.  We like Lifesaver Dog Houses, but they require a bit of after-market modification to fit larger tortoises in the doggy door.

3. Supplemental Heat

Any time the outdoor temperatures are below 50, your warm-climate tortoise should have a source of supplemental heat. We like wall-mounted Stanfield heat mats. It's important that you don't floor-mount heat mats because that can cause burns to your tortoise's plastron (belly shell) and make it harder for them to thermoregulate. It's also important to minimize the use of extension cords and make sure that any cords are well out of the way so your shell baby can't get tangled up in them or accidentally unplug them. 

4. Supplemental Power

We've learned that we cannot trust our power grid. If you don't already own a good gas powered (not solar) generator, it's time to make the investment now. Start a Facebook fundraiser or a Go Fund Me if you can't afford one. Too many tortoises were lost last week to justify not spending the money on this life saving piece of equipment. We use a 3800-watt Wen Inverter Generator that we purchased during a Black Friday sale at Harbor Freight for around $600. 

5. Physical Strength

Some species of tortoise get really big. If you and your house-mates cannot physically get the animal into a safe condition (inside your home, inside its home, into the barn, whatever) if needed, it's time to consider re-homing your animal. I know this is harsh. I know this is hard to hear. So are all of the terrible stories that have been shared with me this week, many of them because "I just wasn't strong enough to get my tortoise inside." 

Native Species, or Brumating Animals

We normally recommend letting sleeping dogs lie and trusting nature, but let's face it: last week's storm wasn't a normal event at all. I'm finding dead songbirds on our property because they froze and fell out of trees. When it's that crazy out for that long, it's time to wake up the sleeping beauties, stick them in a storage bin under a bunch of peat moss, and bring them into the house for a few days. They'll need a little extra TLC to bounce back afterward, but it's far better than other, more disastrous outcomes. 

What now? 

We want to know how your shell babies did last week. We'd like to know what you did to protect them, and what the outcome was, so that we can learn ourselves and help share stories with others that could help them through the next freak storm event. If you just want to send us a sentence or two to update us, that would be very much appreciated. If you have a short anecdote that you would let us share on social media, please send that with a photo of your baby. Even the heartbreaking stories might help someone else. 
For obvious reasons, we are going to focus on emergency preparedness and continued education, outreach, and support for keepers. Please consider making a small contribution to our efforts, or even better please start a fundraiser of your own on our behalf and ask your friends to support it. Every dollar helps. No animal should die because we didn't get the right information into the right hands. Click the blue button to help.
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