Exeter man is banned from keeping tortoises after admitting he left his pets to die and dumped their bodies in East Devon

An Exeter man who left 10 giant tortoises to die when he failed to check them for almost a week, dumping their corpses in East Devon woods, has been banned from keeping the animals for a decade.

Gary Priddle, aged 56, of Grecian Way, Exeter, on Thursday (May 30) admitted before Exeter Magistrates’ Court he failed to properly look after the animals, later dumping the 10 Aldabra tortoises, which died in his care.

Priddle was sentenced to a 12-month community order and banned from keeping tortoises for 10 years, pleading guilty to one charge under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and one under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The court heard Priddle admit he failed to check the tortoises for six days over Christmas 2023.

Exeter

An RSCPA officer shows the size of the animals that were left to die.
Photo: RSPCA.

The animals died because heating lamps keeping them warm broke during the period of time Priddle failed to check his pets.

The court heard how in January staff at the Killerton Estate, near Exeter, contacted police to report eight dead giant tortoises in Ashclyst Forest, East Devon.

East Devon

The bodies of several giant tortoises were found dead in East Devon in January 2024.
Photo: D&C Police.

While police launched enquiries into the animals’ deaths, two more of giant tortoises were found dead, dumped in the Fairmile area of East Devon.

East Devon

One of the dead tortoises dumped by Priddle.
Photo: RSPCA.

An appeal for information from the public led officers to Priddle, who admitted being the owner of the tortoises.

A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesperson said: “He attended voluntary attendance 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 23 December and Friday 29 December 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 rehomed.”

Priddle faced 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.

After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to a 12-month Community Order, handed fines totalling £199, ordered to carry out 50 hours of unpaid work and a given a 10-year disqualification order preventing him from owning, looking after, or keeping tortoises.

After sentencing Inspector Mark Arthurs, from 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.

“While 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 anymore.”

Exeter

Pictured here are three of the 10 giant Aldabra tortoises left to die after Priddle failed to check the animals for six days.
Photo: RSPCA.

The officer praised PC Mark Edwards for his work in bringing the case to court, plus the National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSCPA for their support and help amid the investigation.

Evie Button, RSPCA senior scientific officer, 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.”

She said retiles, such as tortoises, could not afford to be left in the cold without suffering stress, illness and death.

The RSPCA spokeswoman said: “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.”

She added: “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.”

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