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For tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation


Jim Wright:, "Tremeneth", Shrubberies Hill,
Porthleven, Helston, Cornwall, TR13 9BJ.

I have had a great fondness For the Horsfields tortoise, Testudo horsfieldi For many years, and have had a female of this Species For over ten years. This female was a loner, as far as her own species went, because I originally had one male and two Females, but the male and the other female died about five years ego. However, she has plenty of company, having lived quite happily with the other members of my 'Family', consisting of Spur-thighed tortoises, Testudo graeca, Hermann's Tortoises, T. hermanni and a Female Carolina Box terrapin, Terrapene carolina carolina.

'Just out of the blue’, towards the end of September 1978, I was offered some Horsfields tortoises, and early in October I became the proud owner of another female and four males. They were part of a consignment of 77 which were rescued by the R.S.P.C.A., From a death by boiling.

Apparently, a senior inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. received information that a consignment of 80 tortoises had arrived in the country on a boat from France, via the channel port of Folkestone. Having ascertained the name and address of the person responsible for importing this batch of tortoises, the inspector interviewed that person. From the information gained, it was clear that the tortoises were on their way to a Japanese restaurant in the City of London, to be used for human consumption. What the inspector was told, in fact, caused him to become very concerned for the welfare of the tortoises.

On arriving at the restaurant, the inspector quickly had his fears confirmed they were to be used for making soup. He was told that they would be killed by decapitation, which would have been a quick and painless death. At the request of the inspector, the importer, acting as interpreter, conveyed to the restaurant's culinary staff, the provision and requirements of present legislation.

Those of us who keep tortoises know how uncooperative they can be when we want them to put out their heads, and the next tortoise to be chosen for the soup was no exception. Several attempts were made to make it extend its head for decapitation, without success. The chief chef then spoke to a colleague in Japanese and before the inspector realised what was happening, the tortoise was deposited into a saucepan of boiling water. The Society's representatives were given no prior warning, either verbally or physically, that such a course of action would be taken. In view of the speed with which it was operated, they had no opportunity to prevent the offence taking place.

Despite this act of cruelty being observed at close range by the R.S.P.C.A. officer, the chef and his colleague pleaded 'Not Guilty' to the offences with which they were charged. The magistrates, having heard the evidence, including that of two veterinary surgeons employed by the R.S.P.C.A., found them both guilty. The chief chef was fined £50 and his collegue £25. No awards of costs were made to the R.S.P.C.A. The R.S.P.C.A. then took charge of the remaining 77 tortoises and they were all suitably re-homed.

As oll previous specimens of this species in the past came From Russia, I think we can safely assume that these also came from the same country. The R.S.P.C.A. had hoped to return this consignment to Russia, but the case against the restaurant staff took so long that autumn had arrived and it was thought that by the time the tortoises arrived in Russia, they would have been too late to find hibernating quarters, and would have died.

The R.S.P.C.A. are to be congratulated on their prompt action in this case and on their successful prosecution, but I somehow feel that a heavier fine, or- even imprisonment, was called for.

At the time of writing, (February 1979) all five of my specimens are hibernating quite safely, but I shall Probably wake them up early and get them feeding.

Testudo Volume 1 1979