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Island Exotics Clinic Veterinarian: Dr Andrew Vermeulen talks about homing tortoises

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Dr Andrew Vermeulen talks about homing tortoises in Hong Kong and introduces Gwei Lui.

A furry pet may not be for everyone – especially if allergies are a concern. In which case, an exotic reptile may be a suitable solution. Snakes and lizards have their fans and their foes, but many find tortoises less threatening – and easier to love. Tortoises can be friendly and personable, but some pet owners don’t reckon with their long lifespans and complex needs. As a result, it is often necessary to rehome tortoises when their owners are no longer able or willing to care for them.

If you are interested in homing a tortoise, it’s a good idea to start by rescuing an elderly one rather than buying a baby as their long lifespans sometimes lead to them outliving their owners.

An example is a local Sulcata tortoise, named Gwei Lui, who was rescued by Island Exotics Clinic – Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital. Sulcata tortoises live up to 70 years and can weigh as much as 60 kilogrammes. Tortoises live well in Hong Kong during the summer months, if they have access to a secure garden or rooftop with plenty of space to roam. They need a heated hide box if night-time temperatures fall below 20ºC, and during the day they need a basking spot fitted with a 30ºC heat lamp. In the winter, tortoises can be brought inside to stay warm, but they need a UVB bulb to provide them with active vitamin D. Whatever the weather, tortoises need daily soakings, and large quantities of hay and vegetables.

Gwei Lui’s story

Gwei Lui came to the Island Exotics Clinic in a very poor state after suffering a cloacal prolapse (the cloaca is a reptile’s single orifice, that they pass faeces, urine and eggs from). The prolapse was caused by a baseball-sized bladder stone, which formed because she was dehydrated and undernourished.

Gwei Lui’s owners were unable to afford the prolonged treatments she required. So, we decided to try to save her.

We started by replacing the prolapse under general anaesthetic with endoscopic guidance, much like performing a colonoscopy on people. Once it was replaced, we took steps to make sure her body had what it needed to heal, including daily morphine, antibiotics and special medicines to help her gut.

Gwei Lui then underwent open shell surgery to remove the stone from her bladder. This required a second anaesthetic and use of a pneumatic surgical saw to open a window through her shell into her body. Since Gwei Lui was also suffering from constipation, we gave her a repeat colonoscopy and extensive enema, which finally got things moving.

Gwei Lui recuperated at the Island Exotics Clinic for a month before being adopted. At her new home, there’s plenty of outdoor space which will allow her to grow. She won’t be our ‘little 5-kilogramme girl’ for long!

Find it 

• Island Exotics Clinic, 2/F Hing Tai Building, 139-140 Connaught
Road West, Sai Ying Pun, 2858 9388, www.taiwaiexotic.com

If you have any questions about looking after a shelled friend, email Dr Andrew Vermeulen at [email protected].


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