THEY have been asleep for three months, so it was a bit of a surprise awakening for the hundreds of tortoises who gathered for a party following their long slumber.

A total of 249 tortoises were taken by their owners to Anton Vets’ Tortoise Spring Up and Awake Party on Saturday, where they are given a health check after hibernation, carried out by a team of volunteers from the surgery.

The event is organised by John Chitty, a vet at the Andover practice, who has a special interest in the animals, and has even written a textbook about them.

John, who has been a vet for 29 years, spent the day weighing, worming, scanning and trimming the nails of the tortoises who turned up, with people travelling for miles to attend.

He said: “It’s held twice a year when they wake up and a slumber party for before they go into hibernation. We check them over and worm them and scan the ovaries of the females. It’s a bit like a tortoise MOT. It’s become a bit of a social gathering, people have a cup of twa and a chat and swap stories.”

He said it was impossible to know the age of the eldest tortoise at the clinic, held at Burghclere Down Community Centre, because many have been passed down through generations, so their exact age is not known.

However, John said there were some over 100-years-old, adding: “They live longer than us so we don’t always know their age, although some families have this documented.”

John said they are popular pets: “They have a lot of character. They are really nice animals. Most of them are quite gentle and cute. If you have a tortoise when you are young it’s a pet for life.”

He said the parties have a positive impact on the female tortoises, who can develop problems with their ovaries when too many follicles grow, because being around male tortoises can reduce the problem.

The females are given an ovary scan to check they are cycling properly, but John said problems associated with ovaries are decreasing, possibly as a result of their attendance at the party.

He added: “We see less and less of this happening so it’s just doing them some good exposing them to males."

The vets’ slumber party will be held in the autumn. For more information, go to