The Sulcata tortoise of North-Central Africa is one of the most popular and well-known pet tortoise types. They are also known as African spurred tortoises or spurred tortoises. Once rare in the United States, the Sulcata tortoise has shown a fantastic ability to adapt to many climates and habitats in captivity. Combined with their low cost and curious personality, they have become the most sought after by first-time tortoise owners.
Baby Sulcata tortoises are available from many sources, including local pet stores, reptile expos and breeders. All baby tortoises are captive bred, as importation has ceased. The pricing for a tortoise depends on size, age and even season; when more babies are available, the price can drop. Sulcata tortoises can also be adopted from rescues or families that are unable to care for them any longer.
Sulcata Tortoise Size and Lifespan
Hatchling Sulcata tortoises will be about 1 ½ to two inches in shell length. The growth rate is more diverse than other tortoises; 10-inch tortoises could be three years old or 10 years old. The variance is mainly due to temperature and care from the owner.
Many adults will surpass 100 pounds. Big females can range from 90 to 120 pounds. All Sulcata tortoises, especially males, can reach 200 pounds, but that is when the tortoise has reached old age. The tortoises grow quite fast for the first 10 years, and then their growth slows with age.
It hasn’t been determined how long a Sulcata tortoise can live in captivity as they haven’t been raised in captivity for long, but it is believed they can live for more than 80 years. Given a lean, high-fiber diet, captive-raised animals have higher life expectancies than wild counterparts.
Due to their size, Sulcata tortoises are best kept in an outdoor area. They can be kept there for most, or all, of the year. A desert-type set-up outdoors with a large grass area in the center and dirt around the perimeter is the recommended setting. The tortoise will “patrol” the border, so leave it unplanted. The tortoises are constant grazers and will eat any plants in the enclosure. Fragile plants will likely be destroyed.
An adult tortoise enclosure requires a sturdy wall at least two feet in height above the ground, as well as a foot below ground to prevent or discourage the tortoise from digging. Concrete masonry blocks work well, as does a well-built wood wall. See-through fences and walls shouldn’t be used because the tortoise will try to escape through or over something it can’t see through.
Young Sulcata tortoises should be raised indoors. Outdoor housing is acceptable when the temperature is in the correct range. It is recommended to grow the baby indoors for the first few years and then transfer it outside. The best enclosure for a baby tortoise is a shallow terrarium or plastic tub. Focus on the substrate, lighting, temperature and cage furniture.
Baby tortoises should have access to a humid hiding area. This helps their shells grow smoothly and keep them hydrated. When a baby is raised without proper humidity, it can form a bumpy shell, which is known as “pyramiding.”
To help tortoises with winter climates, an enclosure can be built in a garage. Garage enclosures should be well heated to keep the tortoise comfortable, and the temperature should be checked regularly.
Sulcata Tortoise Substrate
Sulcata tortoises will burrow more if there isn’t a proper hide box accessible. When the tortoises do dig, these spots should be filled with large stones or bricks to prevent future digging in that area. Single tortoises can burrow naturally, but multiple tortoises can “stack up” in the burrows and block the deepest ones, not allowing them to exit.
For substrate, there are many different options. Cypress mulch can be great bedding. Coconut bedding or peat moss is also good. Outdoor enclosures don’t need added substrate, provided that the soils are natural and not tainted with fertilizer. Include a few larger, flat rocks to help file the tortoise’s nails.
Lighting and Temperature
Outdoor Sulcata tortoises can be tolerant of many temperature ranges. High temperatures are not a problem is they have a shaded area to escape from the sun. They can also handle cold temperatures as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit with no problems.
When nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees, provide a heated hide box that maintains at least 55 to 60 degrees, with the mid-‘70s being the ideal temperature, or you should bring the tortoise inside. You should absolutely check on the tortoise if it is exposed to low temperatures to ensure it got into the heated hide box.
For indoor tortoises, they can be maintained at average room temperatures of 68 to 75 degrees. Provide a basking area heated by an overhead light in the 100 plus degree range. They need a UVB light to help process the calcium in their diets. Keep the light on 12 to 14 hours a day and turn it off at night. The heating can be provided 24/7.
Sulcata Tortoise Food and Water
The Sulcata tortoise is always an eager eater and will rarely turn down food. For adults, the best staple diets are various dry grasses and leaves. They will graze on lawn grasses, grape leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers. Most will also eat hay. However, baby and small tortoises may have a harder time eating the tough grass and hay.
Spring mixes work well, especially for babies. Include kale, collard greens, turnip greens and any darker lettuce type. Mazuri Tortoise Diet can be offered occasionally to cover anything nutritionally. Feed the tortoise from a flat rock or shallow dish. Never feed the tortoise from gravel or diet, so it doesn’t eat the soil or rocks.
If you live in areas with prolonged dry months, such as Los Angeles, offer water to keep the tortoise hydrated. Use a shallow, low-sided dish for water. This makes cleaning easy, which must be done regularly, as most tortoises will soak and defecate in the water dish. Tortoises that live in areas with regular rainfall will drink from puddles or leaves.
The tortoise needs to be soaked with shallow, warm water once or twice a week for 15 to 30 minutes to get fully hydrated and clean the shell. A soft toothbrush can be used to remove dirt from the shell. Baby and juvenile tortoises can dry out quicker, so soak them up to three times a week.
Health and Handling
Purchase an alert, active Sulcata tortoise with bright, clean eyes and no discharge from the nose, or buy one from a reputable source. These tortoises can suffer from most of the common reptile health problems but respiratory infections are the most widespread. They are susceptible to respiratory infections if kept in cold or wet enclosures; they need to dry out.
Sulcata tortoises can get easily stressed out when overhandled. Always keep the tortoise right-side-up when holding. Adults are more resistant to handling. Avoid pinning them down or restricting them, especially when they are young. Older tortoises are usually more tolerant of people.