College JCRs ponder pet tortoise logistics


Balliol’s recent decision to sponsor George, the Durrell Foundation’s 100-year-old radiated tortoise, follows the return into favour of these cold-blooded creatures as every proud college’s must-have pet animal.

This year’s Comrades Tortoise, the elected tortoise representative in the Balliol JCR, Phoebe Grant-Smith and Lottie Dodd, proposed the motion for Balliol to adopt its own tortoise. It was overwhelmingly approved by the College’s JCR on Sunday of Fifth Week.

The two finalists originally intended to keep the animal on college grounds, but after having discussed the necessity for upcoming student bodies to provide adequate quantities of lettuce and strawberries during the next century or so, the committee opted for sponsoring the Durrell Foundation’s own reptile from a distance.

For a few years now, Balliol JCR members have been forbidden from keeping a tortoise after the last one passed away.

During their election campaign for the Comrades Tortoise position in Michaelmas 2015, Grant-Smith and Dodd were determined to bring the long-missed animals back to Balliol, yet they claimed that “a tortoise is for life, not just the fleeting desires of a student body,” to remind everyone of the serious responsibilities entailed. Grant-Smith told Cherwell, “We had this genius idea of sponsoring a tortoise from the Durrell Foundation so that technically the College has a tortoise but we don’t have to look after it (and potentially accidentally kill it). They can do this for us.”

It came as a disappointment to some members of the JCR that sponsoring a tortoise would not allow them to choose its name.

The Durrell Foundation compromise was not enough to satisfy one first year, who told Cherwell that, “This isn’t getting a tortoise! I am going to call for a vote of no confidence in our current Comrades Tortoise.”

Balliol is not alone in its pursuit of a slow companion. Tempted to join the half-dozen colleges that already have a tortoise, Oriel passed a motion on the Sunday of Fourth Week to start looking for one to adopt.

In answer to animal welfare concerns similar to those raised in Balliol, the species’ habit of hibernating in unused fridges or empty boxes for around five months was mentioned as a way to lighten the burden of the designated tortoise keepers. Unsure of which breed would suit the college’s ideals best, Oriel JCR decided that the matter would be discussed in greater detail in Sixth Week, once practical questions had been thoroughly investigated.

Magdalen, on the other hand, has succeeded in avoiding these difficulties by electing a new “human tortoise” every year. Called Oscar d’Tortoise, this individual participates in Corpus Christi’s historical Tortoise Fair in the Trinity term and is tasked with eating an entire head of lettuce at every meeting of the JCR.

This strict diet is partly in preparation for the tortoise race, the culminating point of the festivities organised by Corpus Christi for charity. In order to facilitate Oscar’s training, a new amendment has just been made to the original ‘Lettuce Allowance’ constitution.

In dedicating 60p of its budget to the regular purchase of the required amount of lettuce, the JCR also encouraged Oscar d’Tortoise to eat only organic lettuce, thus making the most of the money spent by Magdalen JCR.

The present Oscar, Missourian Zachary Klamann told Cherwell, “I find it incredibly demanding on my stomach capacity.” But this is a sacrifice which he is willing to make as part of his vocation. “I’m a big tortoise fan. As they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I just thought I’d flatter tortoises as much as possible.”

When recalling the elections for his position, Klamann noted, “I ran unopposed but still somehow managed to only get 88 per cent of the vote or something like that, so that’s relatively embarrassing, no matter – tortoises don’t cry.”


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