Exeter man admits dumping ten giant tortoises in forest

Gary Priddle 56, leaving Exeter Magistrates Court after facing charges under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 after 10 giant deceased tortoises were found in East Devon
-Credit: (Image: SWNS)


A man from Exeter has been handed a 12-month community order and been banned from keeping or owning tortoises for at least a decade after ten giant Aldabra tortoises died while in his care.

Gary Priddle, 56, of Grecian Way, Exeter, admitted to one charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 following his arrest. He also pled guilty to one charge under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 when he appeared at Exeter Magistrates' Court today (Thursday, May 30).

The court was told that in January, employees at the Killerton Estate, near Exeter, alerted police about the finding of eight deceased giant tortoises in Ashclyst Forest. During the investigation, two additional tortoises were discovered in the Fairmile area.

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Following the initial discovery, police received information from the public which led to Priddle being identified as the tortoises' owner. He attended voluntary police interviews in February and April where he confessed to owning the tortoises.

The court was told that during these interviews, Priddle revealed that he had neglected the tortoises for a six-day period between Saturday, December 23 to Friday, December 29. When he finally returned to check on the animals after abandoning them in the middle of winter, he found that the heating lights had malfunctioned and the tortoises had died.

During visits to Priddle's residence, which were conducted by Devon and Cornwall Police and the RSPCA and it was discovered that he still had a large number of adult and baby Herman tortoises. All of these have since been removed from his care and rehomed.

Priddle was summoned to Exeter Magistrates' Court where he faced one charge of abandoning ten deceased Aldabra tortoises in East Devon, breaching the Environmental Protection Act 1990. His second charge relates to his neglect to check on their daily welfare and heating system, which failed and resulted in their deaths, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

He received a 12-month Community Order, was fined £199, ordered to complete 50 hours of unpaid work, and was handed a 10-year disqualification order preventing him from owning, looking after, or keeping tortoises.

District Judge, Stuart Smith at Exeter Magistrates' Court said that the death of the animals was a "devastating tragedy" and "completely avoidable". Judge Smith said: "For six days you prioritised your festive celebrations over their care and completely ignored your responsibilities, not checking in on them during this time."

Inspector Mark Arthurs said: "This case highlights the variety of work that Devon and Cornwall Police undertake on a daily basis. It sadly serves as a reminder to all animal and pet owners that they always have a responsibility for the wellbeing of their animals.

"Those that are struggling with achieving this should reach out to the wealth of charities, who can support them in this. While this case is one of an unusual nature, Devon and Cornwall Police are committed to ensuring, where possible, offenders are brought to justice and disqualification orders are sought from the courts to prevent further animals being harmed.

"We recognise that Priddle surrendered his remaining tortoises, but in this case we sought a disqualification order to ensure that he could not possess any more. I would like to commend the officer in the case, PC Mark Edwards in his efforts for bringing this case to court and also thank the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSCPA for their guidance and support throughout this investigation.

RSPCA senior scientific officer Evie Button added: "Exotic pets have the same needs as they would in the wild. Caring for a captive animal takes time, money and knowledge to provide everything the animal needs.

"They need the right diet and the correct environment, to prevent suffering and ensure good welfare. Anyone keeping an animal in captivity in England and Wales has a legal obligation to meet that animal's needs under the Animal Welfare Act.

Exeter man banned from keeping pets after death of ten giant tortoises
Exeter man banned from keeping pets after death of ten giant tortoises

"Keeping an animal in surroundings that aren't suitable for its species can cause stress and behavioural problems. Reptiles rely on their environment to maintain their body temperature, so they need to live in a heated environment with a specific temperature gradient.

"This keeps them healthy and allows them to carry out their normal behaviour. If a reptile becomes too cold, they may be unable to eat or move normally and their immune system will not work properly to fight disease, meaning the animal can become very ill and die.

"Unfortunately many people are unaware of how much of a commitment exotic pets are when they take them on. That's why it's vital prospective owners always do their research before taking on any animal."

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