A MAN has been sentenced to a 12-month community order and banned from keeping tortoises for 10 years after failing to properly look after and later dumping 10 Aldabra tortoises which died in his care.

Gary Priddle (56), of Grecian Way, Exeter, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and one under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 when he appeared before Exeter Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, May 30.

The court heard that in January, staff at the Killerton Estate, near Exeter, contacted police to report the discovery eight deceased giant tortoises in Ashclyst Forest.

During the course of enquiries, two more were found in the Fairmile area.

Following a police appeal, information was received from members of the public that led to Priddle being identified as the owner of the tortoises.

He attended voluntary police interviews in February and April in which he admitted being the owner of the tortoises.

The court heard that during these interviews, Priddle explained that he had not attended to the tortoises for a six-day period between Saturday, December 23 and Friday, December 29 and when he visited them, he found that the heating lights had stopped working and the tortoises had died.

Joint visits to Priddle’s home address were carried out by Devon and Cornwall Police and the RSPCA and found that he was still in possession of a large number of adult and baby Herman tortoises. All of these have since been re-homed.

Priddle was summonsed to appear at Exeter Magistrates’ Court to face one charge of depositing 10 deceased Aldabra tortoises in East Devon under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and a second charge of not checking on the daily welfare and heating system relating to their care which failed and led to the animals deaths, contrary the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

He was sentenced to a 12-month Community Order, fines amounting to £199, ordered to do 50 hours of unpaid work and a given a 10-year disqualification order preventing him from owning/looking after/keeping tortoises.

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.

“Whilst 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 said: “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.

“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.”