All turtles should live in a suitable environment. A turtle’s home affects how they feel, think and behave. Providing your turtles with shelter and a comfortable resting area is one way you can make sure that your turtle stays healthy and happy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Environment. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your turtle has the right environment, shelter, hideouts, etc. they need for positive welfare.
When it comes to choosing the right environment for your turtle – the bigger the enclosure, the better! Turtles can grow to a shell length of about 20-35cm and will do so regardless of the size of the enclosure. Provide an enclosure to accommodate this growth. Before adopting a turtle, be sure you have enough room and are ready to provide them with the space they need to exercise and stretch.
As you learned in the Nutrition section, water is a vital part of a turtle’s life. They need enough water to be able to swim without breaking the surface of the water and without touching the sides or bottom of their tank. The best way to judge if your turtle has enough water is to provide them with 80 litres of water per 5cm of shell length. So if you have a lovely large turtle that’s 25cm long, they will need 400 litres of water! Not only is a large volume of water best for your companion animal, but it’s easier for you to keep clean as well. Additionally, an appropriate filtration system is essential to keeping the water clean.
Though turtles live most of their lives in water and love to swim, they can’t swim all day. They need to take a rest just like you would if you were doing a physical activity. They also need a place to bask. This is why a turtle tub is an ideal enclosure as they have space for water and dry land. Make sure your turtle can access the land easily by placing a ramp in their enclosure.
Turtles can be kept in either indoor aquariums or outdoor ponds. If you have a young turtle, it is best to keep them in an indoor aquarium until they grow big and strong enough (about 15cm in size) to go outside.
Whatever the appropriate enclosure is for your turtle, you must make sure it is secure so that they do not escape. A turtle that is cared for by people can’t survive on its own and a protected environment will keep them safe from hazards and other animals.
When it comes to turtles laying eggs and hibernating, they will need a specialized enclosure to accommodate this. Please see the Behaviour section.
Your turtles’ water should be tested weekly so that you can check for any chemicals and/or waste that may be harmful for your turtle. Turtles spend a lot of time in water so you have to make sure it is a comfortable place for them. You can purchase a testing kit for your tank or pond which will help with the health and happiness of your turtle. Safe water should be low in ammonia and nitrate. Ask an adult for help testing the water.
Just like people, turtles sometimes need to have time alone. Turtles are quite secretive and need lots of privacy. Providing areas where turtles can have cover and hide out allows them to feel more comfortable and secure. Turtles need more than their shell to hide in so giving them shelters where they can relax is a must.
An aquarium heater can be used in both tanks or ponds. For adults, the temperature should be about 22oC and should be checked daily. It is essential to keep water temperature at an appropriate level for your turtle so they do not get too cold or overheat. Ensure that the turtle’s enclosure is in a safe location, away from direct cold or heat so that the temperature of the water does not change.
Turtles, just like other reptiles, need external heat sources to keep their body temperature warm. For a turtle to do this effectively, they need a basking zone. A basking zone is a warm, dry area on land where turtles can absorb heat. This zone needs a downwards pointing reptile heat lamp that is large enough to heat the whole body, not just the shell. This light should be 30 – 35oC and monitored daily. Turtles also need the option to cool down, so a separate, cooler dry area of land is needed as well.
If you’re keeping your turtle inside, they will require a UV reptile light since they won’t be getting UVA and UVB from natural sunlight. Turtles require these lights to stay healthy. UVA allows them to make vitamin D3 which is used to store calcium and UVB lets reptiles see in colour. These lights will lose effectiveness over time so be sure to follow instructions on when to replace them. Remember – turtles need 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness to replicate a normal day and night so be sure to turn off the light at night.
Substrate is the material used to layer the bottom of the tank. It is important to have substrate in glass aquariums so that your turtle does not tear the rubber sealant at the bottom. Do not use small stones or gravel at as substrate – turtles can eat the stones which will cause a blockage in their bellies, making them very sick. It is best to use fine sand. A small layer is best because it is easier to keep clean. For the land section of the enclosure, you can use a natural coconut fibre/soil/sand mix for substrate.
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