Man sentenced for dumping bodies of giant tortoises in Devon woodland

<span>The Aldabra tortoises ‘required very specific knowledge and care’, the judge said.</span><span>Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock</span>
The Aldabra tortoises ‘required very specific knowledge and care’, the judge said.Photograph: Xinhua/Shutterstock

An animal enthusiast has admitted dumping the bodies of 10 giant tortoises in Devon woodland after they died from the cold when the heating failed over Christmas.

Gary Priddle, 56, an electrician who kept more than 50 tortoises at his home in Exeter, had left the animals alone over the festive period and when he returned the 10 Aldabra tortoises were dead.

Priddle received a community order including 50 hours of unpaid work and was banned from keeping tortoises for 10 years.

The district judge Stuart Smith told him: “These 10 tortoises were exotic reptiles which were not native to this country or this climate. They were unique and required very specific knowledge and care. They were entirely dependent and reliant on you to meet their needs.

“You described them as your pride and joy but for six days you prioritised your festive celebrations over their care and completely ignored your responsibility to them, not checking on them for that time.

“You failed to notice the heating lamp had failed and these magnificent creatures have all died from the cold conditions.”

The judge said Priddle had panicked and hidden their bodies. He said: “Members of the public will be shocked and distressed to hear about the sad deaths of these 10 very impressive animals.”

Priddle has surrendered more than 50 other tortoises found at his home to police. Devon and Cornwall police said they had been rehomed.

Prosecuting, Samantha Rogers said the dead tortoises were found in woodland including at the National Trust’s Killerton estate in January.

Rogers said: “Police were contacted by a member of the public who advised he had seen the tortoises at an address when he was viewing that address for sale.” The prosecutor said Priddle had had the giant tortoises since they were hatchlings 15 years ago.

Postmortem examinations found the tortoises had died from metabolic bone disease linked to “poor husbandry”, as well as a “lack of acute heating during one of the coldest periods of the year”, Rogers said.

The judge imposed an order disqualifying Priddle from owning or looking after tortoises for 10 years.

Insp Mark Arthurs, of Devon and Cornwall police, said: “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.”

The RSPCA’s senior scientific officer Evie Button said: “Exotic pets have the same needs as they would in the wild. 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.”

Priddle admitted failing to meet the needs of the tortoises by not checking on their welfare or heating system, which “failed and led to the animals’ deaths”, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

He also pleaded guilty to leaving the tortoises in areas of east Devon, in places where the Environmental Protection Act 1990 applied.