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Many people can remember their childhood when tortoises could be bought for a pound at the market and almost everyone either had one or knew someone who did.

Unfortunately most of these animals were doomed to untimely deaths due to improper care and since then tortoise have become a more unusual or specialist pet.

This massive trade in tortoises had a big effect on the wild tortoise populations and the sale and movement of tortoises is now strictly controlled by international law.

As the tortoise as a pet continues to grow again in popularity, it is essential to know how the law governing tortoises affects you and your tortoise.

A Brief History of the Sale of Tortoises in the UK

Mediterranean tortoises have been imported into the UK and other European countries since at least the 1890's. Between then and 1984 (when the trade in wild tortoises was made illegal) it is estimated that in excess of 10 million tortoises were imported to the Uk.

Most of these tortoises were of the four Mediterranean species and due to poor transport and poor husbandry, many were dead on arrival in this country or were sick, injured or weakened. Of those that were bought as pets it is estimated that less than 10% survived their first year in captivity, mostly due to poor understanding of the tortoises requirements and poor husbandry.

In 1984 the EEC decided to put three species of tortoise (Spur-thighed, Hermann's and Marginated) on to Appendix 1 of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) endangered list. This prohibited gathering these tortoises from the wild and regulated the commercial trade in these species which meant that they were better protected. Mediterranean tortoises offered for sale today, should all have been bred in captivity.

Legal Issues Regarding the Sale of Tortoises in the UK

Many people think that it is illegal to offer any tortoise for sale within the United Kingdom - this, however is not the case. Some species of tortoise are considered to be endangered (often due to excessive trading and collection from the wild in the past) and these tortoise species have been placed on the CITES (Convention on Trade In Endangered Species) protection register. The UK Government department responsible for enforcing compliance with regards to tortoise trading is called DEFRA. DEFRA are also responsible for issuing "article 10" certificates for tortoise species which are on the protection register. These article 10 certficates are what is often referred to as 'tortoise licenses'.

Before purchasing or selling a tortoise it is essential to know whether your tortoise requires a certificate or not. The following chart whether a certificate is currently required or not.

Common NameScientific NameCites AnnexCertificate Yes/No?
Hermanns tortoiseTestudo hermanniAnnex ACertificate required
Spur-thighed tortoiseTestudo graecaAnnex ACertificate required
Marginated tortoiseTestudo marginataAnnex ACertificate required
Horsfields tortoiseTestudo horsfieldiAnnex BNot required
Leopard tortoiseGeochelone paradisAnnex BNot required
Sulcata tortoiseGeochelone sulcataAnnex BNot required
Indian Star tortoiseGeochelone elegansAnnex BNot required
Red footed tortoiseGeochelone carbonariaAnnex BNot required

If you have any concerns about a tortoise you are being offered for sale, or are unsure about the status of your own tortoises and are planning to sell them, you should contact DEFRA Wildlife Licensing on the telephone number provided below.

General Enquiries - Tel: 0117 372 8168 or 0117 372 8691; Fax 0117 372 8206

Email -

If you suspect that any tortoise is being offered for sale illegally you should report the matter to DEFRA and help discourage the illegal trade in tortoises.