Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mo and Joe's story

The two Russian tortoise males Mo and Joe's rescue story wasn't nearly as dramatic as little Norbert's - they weren't unloved and neglected, they just weren't being cared for properly.

Mo and Joe basking - this was the first time in years that they had heat and light
They belonged to a 12-year-old boy who had bought them from a friend the year before. The boy got bored of them, so the Mom had to do all the work. When I drove out to pick them up, they were housed next to a large window in a modified train table (quite nice actually, about 3'x4'), filled with cedar shavings (BAD for all reptiles), but without lighting. Their owner also fed exclusively romaine lettuce. This is fine to feed as PART of a Russian tortoise's diet, but should not be the only thing they eat. It has too much water, and is lacking in many of the nutrients a testudo horsfieldii needs.

I had kind of hoped that at least one of them was a female, since I hope to expand little Roz' harem... but either way I was glad to have brought Mo and Joe out of a situation in which they would have likely died of a respiratory infection. Since both are male, I knew that these, too, would be rehabilitated and then adopted out to someone who is familiar with proper tortoise care.

Upon arriving home, I threw away all the cedar shavings, and scrubbed the whole table surface. Then I got a cement paver from a friend for the basking area, and attached a 'gallows' type contraption on one side of the table to hang the heat lamps from. I pilfered a heat lamp from my other torts, and ordered a good basking lamp and a UVB strip light. For now I lined the table with newspaper, and filled a giant turkey-baking-pan with moistened coconut coir. I wanted to keep an eye on both tortoises' feces and urates, to get an idea for their health. They started burrowing in the coir right away.

Mo and Jo burrowing in their coconut coir.
They had been kept in cedar shavings for 2 years.
Next I weighed and measured and examined each of the torts, and gave each of them a nice long soak.

Joe had a beautiful, smooth shell. He was obviously not young - my guess was around 50 or so, judging by his face and shell, and the wear and tear on his plastron (the underside of his shell). He had puffy eyes, an overgrown beak, and very, very long toenails. I hoped that the puffy eyes were just an irritation from the dry cedar shavings, and that with proper humidity they would get better on their own. His shell was 6 inches long, and he weighed 500g.

Joe basking
Mo felt very heavy, and looked truly ancient - his shell was almost completely black, and shiny like glazed pottery. He had a few spots of shell rot, which I treated with diluted betadine tincture later. His nails were very long, and his beak was overgrown, too. His eyes were puffy, just like Joe's. His shell was 6 inches long, and he weighed a whopping 580g. Mo could very well be 80 years old or more. Truly a senior tort.

Mo - very heavy and dense
About a week after getting Mo and Joe, we had their beaks and toenails trimmed. They walked a bit strangely for a couple of days, because they were so used to walking on their enormously long nails... but then they became comfortable again. Eating was also a lot easier without the overgrown beaks...

As soon as their basking area was set up (with a nice hot 95-100 degrees F), they started to spend most of their time basking. Remember, the previous owners just set their table by a window, and didn't add any heat or lighting. I bathed them daily for about a week, just to make sure they were hydrated (they have a water dish in their tort table, too). I also encouraged them to dig in the moist coco coir, and misted them, to help their puffy eyes. Mo's eyes went back to normal within a couple of days, and Joe's eyes stopped looking swollen about 2 weeks later.
The 'quarantine' tort table - newspaper covers most of it, so I can monitor feces... they LOVE burrowing in the coco coir, but for now only get a small portion of it. 
A few days after bringing Mo and Joe home, I noticed that Mo had many tiny worms in his feces. Completely grossed out, I talked to our vet, as well as with my reptile rescue friend Mary Esther. We decided to treat Mo and Joe with fenbendazole - I will write more about this at a later time. The bottom line is that the treatment worked, and Mo soon began pooping out large quantities of dead worms. Joe had a few, but not nearly as many as Mo. A second treatment is recommended, which we did 14 days later.

Both Mo and Joe were very friendly - they like to come over for a visit if someone is near their table, and they LOVE to eat right out of my hands. I put a cuttlebone into their tort table, and they crunched it down to about half its original size... they obviously needed the calcium.

Top view of Mo's carapace. I've treated the shell rot (white spots). 
After several weeks, I decided that Joe was ready to go to a new home. He sometimes picked on Mo, and I had known from the beginning that I wouldn't keep them both long-term. I started putting my feelers out for a potential new tort-Momma, and found someone who already had a nice big tortoise table set-up and all the necessary lights. Her little Russian tortoise had escaped from their yard last year, and she was looking for a new one (lesson learned - she would never again leave her tort in the yard unattended!). I asked lots of nosy questions, and finally was satisfied that she would feed Joe properly, provide proper heat and light, and would love him for the rest of his life. I am still in contact with Joe's new owner, and he has adjusted well and is friendly and curious and is eating like a little piggy.

As of right now, I still have Mo. This sweet old-man-tort has grown on me, and I haven't had the heart to search for a new home for him yet. I also still want to keep an eye on him, to see if he has fully recovered from his worm infestation - the vet will examine a fecal sample in a few weeks to see if new worms hatched in spite of the repeat treatment.

Sweet old man, Mo
Mo will need another beak trim soon, too... we didn't want to trim too much off at once!

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