Russian Tortoise

Testudo [Agrionemys] horsfieldii

The Russian tortoise is a small species, reaching only 6 to 10 inches in length. It is native to several countries in central Asia including China and Russia. These tortoises usually inhabit dry areas with sparse vegetation. They are herbivorous, actively grazing on grasses and other plants during seasons with mild temperatures. They dig deep burrows to hide from extreme summer heat and winter cold. Russian tortoises, like other tortoises, have very long life spans, living up to 100 years.

Did You Know?

Russian Tortoises, like other tortoises, have very long life spans, living up to 100 years.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Significant Cause for Concern

The Russian tortoise is one of the most heavily traded reptiles in the world; 150,000 are taken from the wild each year. Most (>90%) individuals in the pet trade are wild-caught. Due in part to capture for the pet trade, habitat loss, and hunting for local medicinal purposes, Russian tortoises are at risk of extinction in the wild.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Only acquire a pet that is captive bred, from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying a wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Unable to Rank

EcoHealthy Pets did not find sufficient information to evaluate the invasion threat from Russian tortoises.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Russian tortoises require custom-made outdoor enclosures or large indoor enclosures with an appropriate temperature gradient and UV light exposure.  They are ardent diggers and thus need to be fenced in with deeply ground wired fences to prevent escape.  These tortoises consume a vegetarian diet, ranging from broad leafy greens to flowers and fruits.  The Russian tortoise life span ranges from 50 to 70 years.

The vast majority of Russian tortoises in the pet trade are harvested from the wild Wild-caught tortoises may be subjected to stressful conditions during transport, and don’t always survive.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet Russian tortoise, be sure to research the animal’s specific care requirements. Talk to your veterinarian about the proper diet and housing for your pet.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Russian tortoises are known to carry Salmonella. If ingested by humans, Salmonella can cause vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are usually mild in healthy adults but can be fatal to infants and young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system. It is important to wash hands before and after handling an animal. Salmonella can be transmitted from exotic pets to any member of a household, even those who do not handle the pet directly.

Russian tortoises are also known carriers of other diseases (e.g., papillomavirus, Mycoplasma agassizii, and Chelonian herpesvirus) and ticks that may affect native tortoises and other wildlife.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Reptiles often do not show signs of illness when harboring Salmonella. Regardless, when purchasing a pet ask the seller if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received. Always wash your hands after handling a reptile.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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