6308 Monona dr., Monona, WI 53716
SULCATA/SPUR THIGH TORTOISE CaresheetCommon Names: Sulcata Tortoise/Spur Thigh Tortoise/African Spurred Tortoise
Scientific Name: Geochelone sulcata
Origin: North central Africa
Size: 24-30" / 80-200 pounds (females usually larger than males)
Lifespan: 70+ years
You will find many ways on the internet on "how to" take care of this animal. This care sheet is showing the way we found works best for us from our many years of experience of caring for this species.
Sulcatas get big fast! They are largest of the African tortoises and they live in the hottest, driest region of the continent. So it's important to keep your pet in similar environmental conditions. Though they can tolerate some lower temperatures, they really need it to be warm and dry.
The ideal pet enclosure is an outdoor pen (during the warmer months) with dry, well-drained soil. For adults, the larger the area the better, for instance, your whole backyard. They will traverse acres if you let them. :) If you have moist clay soils or damp lawn grass, dig down and remove about two feet of this material. Replace it with flat stones covered by a layer of gravel, then a layer of sandy soil.
You should keep your tortoise outdoors only if they have a dry, heated housing shed for use at night and during wet weather. A heated doghouse, for example, can work for this purpose.
Sulcatas are active and strong animals. They love to climb and burrow, so the enclosure should be sturdy enough to keep the tortoise in. You want the walls a minimum of 24" high and constructed from concrete, cinder blocks, wood, or other solid building material. Don't allow the tortoises to see through the wall, otherwise they will continually try to escape. The wall should also be buried 12" to 24" below ground. Setting up the interior of the pen with mounds, rocks, logs, and other items can help not only provide shelter, but also keep it more interesting for your tortoise. If you live in an area with raccoons, coyotes, or other predators, the enclosure should be covered with some sort of frame and hardware cloth for protection.
For adults kept indoors, basically all inside enclosures will be too small on their own. Tortoises love to roam. For a baby tortoise, you can start with a Exo Terra 18" x 18" x 12" enclosure. They will out grow this by the time they are a year old. If using a glass enclosure during its first few years, make it as big as possible. A 50 gallon Zoo Med Low Boy is a decent size for a while. At the very least, use a large rubbermaid-type plastic tub. Custom built enclosures like Tortoise Tables are popular. But after the first few years, your tortoise is going to need more room. During the colder months, people have been known to keep them in basements or garages, but they must be kept quite warm and dry.
Because they like to burrow, a good substrate mixture of Zoo Med eco earth and Exo Terra sand is recommended, at least 6"-12" deep for adults. Keep it clean and dry. Sulcata Tortoises are susceptible to respiratory and other disorders if they're kept in damp environments. As with outdoor enclosures, your indoor pet will appreciate rocks, branches, plants and other structures to hide behind and keep their interest.
Since tortoises roam vast amounts of land they always like to be busy and explore. Whether you keep them in glass or something they can't see out of they will still go into the corner of the enclosure and dig.
LIGHTING & TEMPERATURES
You'll want to keep your enclosure ambient temperature in the 80-95F degree range with night time temperatures in the 70s. A basking spot of 100 degrees should also be provided at one end of the enclosure. Use a good quality temperature gauge, like Zoo Meds digital temp gauge or Exo Terras Thermometer to figure out the temperatures in your enclosure. They will need a UVB light to help properly process calcium and to synthesize vitamin D3. Since they are not out in natural sunlight in our homes, we must provide UVB light in the form of a special bulb designed to produce UVB rays. The best bulbs are the mercury vapors such as Exo Terra's Solar Glo bulbs, ZooMed's Powersun, or Solar bright bulbs. These bulbs provide heat and UVB all in one bulb. You can also use separate basking (heat) bulb and UVB bulbs. If you use these you will want the Zoo Med 10.0 or Exo Terra UVB 150 variety.
Although the Sucata Tortoise comes from a hot, dry region, they still need clean water daily. In an outside enclosure, this can be in a large shallow bowl or tray that they will climb into. Tortoises do not swim so it should not be deep. They often drink and defecate at the same time, so it's important to change the water daily. Exo Terra bowls or Flukers rock dish are nice naturalistic non-porous water bowls. You will want to soak babies in a shallow bowl of room temperature water every morning for approx. 15 mins. to help them stay hydrated. Even though these tortoises are from a dry climate they often dig into burrows where it is moister. Providing a humid hide for these tortoises is a good idea. To mimic the humidity they would get from being in a burrow. Depending on how big your tortoise is you can use different things for your humid hide, one example is Exo Terra tortoise cave. Put some moist sphagnum moss in your humid hide. New studies are showing that having a humid hide also can help prevent shell pyramiding.
Voracious grazers, Spur Thighs are herbivores and require a plant-based diet. The bulk of their food should be from roughage: grasses, grass hay (from bails or flakes), timothy hay, clover, and the like. It goes without saying all of these sources should be herbicide and pesticide-free. Use a calcium & multivitamin powder such as Repashy Superveggie and add a little bit of calcium w D3 to your bottle, then dust the greens with this mix (every feeding). Sugerveggie is formulated for everyday use and to be very palatable on green food.
Top off your greens with moistened Mazuri tortoise diet, zoo med gourmet tortoise food. Keep fruits, vegetables, and other high-moisture foods limited to the occasional snack. Once your tortoise becomes too large and heavy to pick up, these treats will help to lure your pet to move to a place you want them to go. Sulcatas are not meat-eaters so avoid feeding them meat.
Babies don't have a strong bite to chew up dried hay and grasses. So you want to give them a mix of fresh grasses and greens like turnip greens and kale mixed with moistened Mazuri tortoise diet or Zoo Med gourmet tortoise food (also moistened).
Mazuri tortoise diet
zoo med gourmet tortoise food
Tortoises are friendly and fun to watch. They will learn to recognize you and come to you for food and occasionally, a head rub. Sulcatas can sometimes be aggressive. Mature males are especially territorial and will ram other males, so it's important to not have more than one male in an enclosure. The tortoise also recognizes bright colors and will try to eat whatever it is he sees. Remove any brightly colored inedible items from the enclosure.