The following also pertains to American Box Turtles, water turtles, and other reptiles
To quote from an article by Susan M. Tellem, RN. on Salmonella in the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, Tortuga Gazette: A teacher is a sitting duck for a lawsuit should any of the children in the classroom get infected. Teachers know the risks, so if a parent were to sue for a million dollars (much more if the child dies), the parent will win. It is not worth the risk…”
- The wild desert tortoise and tortoises hatched in captivity after August 1989 are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Tortoises, captive at that time and those hatched in captivity since that date, “….. may be maintained as captives without a Federal endangered species permit provided they are given proper care and not subjected to harmful conditions.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looks to Tortoise Group for standards for captive care. Maintaining tortoises in the classroom, particularly immature tortoises, does not constitute proper care.
- Hatchling tortoises need a yard–more room than a terrarium arrangement provides. An area 5′ x 20′ (with a burrow) is the minimum for hatchlings and for the first year, only.
- In order to utilize the food given them and grow normally, tortoises need access to direct sunlight. Sunlight that does not come through common window glass. Special lights sold for indoor arrangements are often inadequate. Taking the tortoise outside for a few minutes a day is fraught with hazards about which most persons are unaware.
Most diets offered to tortoises are deficient in needed nutrients. Lettuce should not be given for several reasons. By the time the effects of deficiencies in diet and care become noticeable to keepers, the internal and external deformities may be irreversible.
Keeping tortoises in the classroom promotes the idea that this is adequate care when it is not. Teachers are in a powerful position to teach by example, good or bad.
Tortoise Group has written a Booklet, Desert Tortoises Adoption and Care. It is available, free, from public libraries and animal hospitals throughout the County. Additional information on the care of captive desert tortoises may be obtained by contacting Tortoise
We urge teachers not to allow the school to be a place for distribution of unwanted hatchlings. The parents need to be involved and be given the opportunity to accept the responsibility of having a tortoise. Children cannot prepare the proper outdoor area and follow through with adequate care.
Let Tortoise Group help you with alternatives to keeping tortoises in the classroom:
- Teachers may prepare their home yards and adopt a tortoise from Tortoise Group. Then, on occasion, take the tortoise into the classroom for a day visit, giving the tortoise the freedom of the classroom. A parent could take their tortoise to visit for part of an hour.
- Establish a proper outdoor enclosure on school grounds. Customizing a tortoise habitat within the confines of school property is usually a special challenge, unique to each school and requires more than knowing how to create that habitat in a residence yard. Tortoise Group staff has experience in assisting school staff to meet the needs of the tortoise in the school setting.
- Invite a Tortoise Group volunteer to bring a tortoise into the classroom to give an informative presentation to individual classes, call 873-3500. The National Park Service, Red Rock Visitor Center staff and others with the Clark County Desert Conservation Program (455-2860) also perform this service.