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Pet of the week: The Hermann's tortoise

Who's hiding in here? Testudo hermanni, or Hermann's tortoise, sometimes referred to as a Mediterranean tortoise. He's quite little, for a tortoise, growing to just eight inches, which is smaller than a giant African land snail, for crying out loud.

Notoriously slow, isn't he? Well, he certainly likes to take his time, as that is one thing your tortoise has plenty of. Even the wee Hermann's tortoise can live beyond 75 years, a fact that any potential owners should be acutely aware of – there is a distinct possibility that your pet will outlive you. Your average hare, on the other hand, is lucky to make it to five in the wild. Not that it's a race, of course.

Tortoises are a doddle to keep... Not so, and this is one of the myths that the British Association of Tortoise Keepers tries to debunk. Tortoises require plenty of care and attention, and cannot simply be left at the bottom of the garden with the odd lettuce leaf and their name Tipp-Ex'd on their back. While we're on that subject, who ever thought it was a good idea to write "Lucky" on a tortoise's shell? Would you tattoo "Fido" on to your dog's back? Don't answer that.

So what is their ideal environment? Outdoors, they like to bask in the sun, but it's not just a question of leaving them outside all day, as they require shelter. This should come in the form of a pen – predator- and escape-proof – with plenty of grass to munch on and a small hut with hay for further munching. At nights, it is advisable to bring him in to the warmth, and a nice cosy vivarium (tank!) for rest. Hermanns are quite active, and will burrow and climb, but make sure they can't topple over, as this can prove fatal. Hermanns will need to hibernate over winter, and to get the conditions right you will need to seek out advice from the specialists.

What about lettuce leaves? Diet is crucial for the well-being of tortoises – they need low-fat, mineral-rich, high-fibre foods. It takes a staggering three weeks for them to digest food, and your scraps from the kitchen will go through them too quickly. A broad range of different grasses and salads is advised, such as endive and mustard cress. For a full menu, you should get advice from the BATK website (batk.org.uk).

Yes, but where's the love? Tortoises are affectionate creatures, and they readily recognise their owners. Plus, there is something comforting about knowing you are in the presence of a creature whose ancestors have roamed the earth for some 200 million years.

Where can I get one? BATK has a re-homing scheme set up for members, and annual membership is very reasonable. You should under no circumstances buy a tortoise from a pet shop without its paperwork. The illegal trade in tortoises is a criminal offence and can lead to up to five years in prison for both the buyer and seller. So there.

What would be his motto?

"You can be sure of (a) shell", "Hard hats must be worn in this area", "Live slow, die old, have a beautiful carapace".