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Covid travel restrictions 'may put tortoises in danger'

By Nick Hartley
BBC Wales News

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media caption"These are animals that are in danger," says a sanctuary volunteer

A tortoise sanctuary has said it has received hundreds of phone calls from owners concerned local lockdowns will affect their pets' hibernation.

Each winter about 200 tortoises hibernate at The International Tortoise Association's temperature-controlled facility in Sully, Vale of Glamorgan.

But the charity said about a third of its 500 members live in areas facing restrictions, so were unable to travel.

"These are animals that are in danger," a volunteer said.

Six counties in Wales - Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport are in lockdown, meaning people cannot enter or leave the counties without a reasonable excuse.

The charity's founder Ann Ovenstone said: "They have to get them down to us to put them into hibernation, obviously, because the weather is totally unsuitable in most of Wales.

"So with all these counties that are now closed down, we will be a little bit worried that they won't be able to bring their tortoise down."

image captionVolunteer Celia Claypole has been fielding calls from owners

Volunteer Celia Claypole said: "We're having calls all the time with these people ringing worried that are they going be able to get to us.

"Are we going to be locked down? What's going to happen with their tortoise for the winter?

"These animals are due to go into hibernation and it's something that has to happen.

"It isn't more important than the health issue that is going on, but it is adding to the stress."

image captionTortoises can live to be more than 150 years old

Hibernation is vital for most tortoises due to their need to supplement their body with warm air in summer months - the cold-blooded creatures cannot regulate their own body temperature, so their metabolism slows in the colder months.

With climate conditions in the UK lower than those of tortoises' native habitats, some owners use carefully temperature-regulated environments, such as the Sully sanctuary, to store their hibernating pet over winter at the optimum temperature.

image captionAnn Ovenstone is concerned for the tortoises which would usually stay at the sanctuary during hibernation

Welsh Government guidance published following the latest round of Covid-19 restrictions makes it clear that travel to collect or drop off a pet is not considered essential.

However, there is provision for travel in cases of animal welfare but that has given the sanctuary's volunteers little comfort.

"We have tried to research to find out if we are coming under the category of an emergency," Ms Claypole said

"The way we look at it, these are animals that are in danger".

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