Wed Feb 6, 8:31 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Warm winters may be rousing hibernating pet tortoises early and endangering their lives but there is a solution, experts say -- keep them through the winter in the fridge.
Tortoise experts say unseasonably warm weather has woken many of the reptiles early, leaving their owners needing to keep them warm through any new cold snaps that could kill them.
"The fridge is an ideal method and a proven way of being safe in a changing climate," said Joy Bloor, owner of one of country's largest sanctuaries, the Tortoise Garden in Cornwall, where dozens of tortoises have woken early this year.
"It is becoming a more popular method definitely."
Tortoises hibernate through the winter but need to keep their body temperature between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius. If it rises above that, they wake up, begin digesting food and will die if the temperature falls again.
Experts recommend using a new fridge with a reliable thermostat -- and without a freezer compartment as fridges containing integral freezers can malfunction, freezing the whole unit and any tortoises within.
"If you open the door every day they should get enough air," she said. "But you shouldn't go away on holiday and leave them."
Bloor says using a fridge is not an option for her -- she has some 400 animals, several more than 100 years old, and no refrigerator large enough.
In any case, once the tortoises have woken, they cannot simply be put a fridge -- once the hibernation has been broken, the fall in temperature would kill them.
(Reporting by Peter Apps; Editing by Steve Addison)