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For tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation


For many years the BCG has run a tortoise ‘Fingerprinting Scheme’ for members. The owners supplied a photo print of their tortoise’s plastron and this was kept on a database with descriptive details of the animal. The original scheme was based on computer recognition of the unique plastron pattern of every tortoise.

The scheme has gradually fallen into disuse and has now been discontinued. The BCG advice for identification of tortoises has been revised as follows to aid in their recovery and to prove ownership if they go missing or are stolen.

  1. Take sharply focussed digital photos of your tortoise(s) from above and below alongside a ruler or measuring tape. Ensure that any distinguishing features such as shell damage or crooked claws/beak are included in the images. It is useful to take photos of the head and tail aspects too.
  2. Have some prints made and store your photo files where they are quickly accessible if your tortoise should go missing. Sign and date your prints.
  3. Keep a written record of the species, age, sex, weight and length of each tortoise and make a note of any distinctive features.
  4. If your tortoise is still growing, repeat the photography and measurement each year. Take new photos of adults if the appearance changes over time.
  5. Have your tortoise microchipped. The chip is normally inserted by your vet under the skin of the thigh. Mini-microchips are now available for smaller animals. You will be given documentation with a unique number that can be read by a microchip scanner.
  6. If you have bred the tortoise yourself, microchipping may be a legal requirement anyway if you plan to sell the animal, depending on whether the species is listed as CITES Annex A (Convention on International Trade in Exotic Species). Regulations may change from time to time, but you can check the current situation for commercial transactions online at:
  7. Keep printed copies of your photos along with your microchip paperwork and your tortoise’s statistics. Keep your electronic images on a storage device in the same place, so if the worst happens you will have all the information to hand.
  8. Finally, make your premises as secure from intruders as possible and remember that if there is a small escape route, a tortoise will find it. Label all hibernation boxes clearly and never leave rubbish bags around into which a tortoise could creep.