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General Care of Sulcata or African Spurred Tortoises

Turtle Types

GENERAL

African Spurred Tortoises are large, impressive animals. They are the third largest species on the planet after the giant tortoises from the Galapagos and Aldabras.
Turtle Distribution

DISTRIBUTION

Sulcatas are found in hot, dry scrubland areas in North-Central Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. They live in deep burrows which give them relief from the heat. They browse grass and plant growth, especially during and after the rainy season.
Turtle Sizes

SIZE

SULCATAS grow large, with adult females reaching 20 inches and adult males growing to 30 inches. Females typically reach weights of 65 to 75 pounds and large males can grow to 125 to 150 pounds.
Turtle Environment and Enclusure

ENVIRONENT & ENCLOSURE

The most common form of indoor accommodation for small or medium sized African Spurred Tortoises is a large terrarium. Keepers can use plastic tubs, wooden cages, and other enclosures, but glass terrariums are easy to find at the local pet store and they come in a variety of sizes. Of course, as the tortoise grows, it will need larger and larger enclosures. A pair of adult Sulcatas will require a large backyard and outbuilding that is at least 12' wide x 24' long.

The substrate for Sulcatas can be a mixture of ¾ sand and ¼ peat moss. A layer of grass hay can be added at one end to provide some shelter. Thesubstrate should be kept dry as Sulcatas are sensitive to damp conditions.

Heat and Lighting: Heat should be provided using a heat-emitting bulb in a lamp from overhead. Ideally, this heat lamp should hang just about 12 inches above the substrate. The heat-emitting bulb should be provide a basking spot of 90° to 95° F (32° to 35° C) at one end of the enclosure. This will provide a hot end for the tortoise to enjoy. Most keepers will also place a shop light fixture overhead that is fitted with one or two UV-emitting bulbs. These can be found at your pet store or on-line from a variety of sources. UVB-heat bulbs® from T-Rex products and Reptisun® bulbs from Zoomed will also provide UV radiation to the enclosure. This UVB is necessary for Vitamin D3 production (needed for calcium absorpion, proper muscle functioning, etc.).

Turtle Diet

DIET

Sulcatas should be fed a diet that is very high in fiber. They will feed eagerly on a mixed salad of greens and vegetables each day, but a keeper should try to offer as much grass, hay, dandelions, leaves, and Opuntia cactus pads as possible. A sprinkle of calcium should be offered on the salad every few times. For optimal health, they should be fed fruits only sparingly or not at all. We offer our Leopards some melon, apple, and other fruits during the hot summers, but only once every ten days to two weeks. These Tortoises should not be fed any dog food or cat food and commercial foods only very seldom as they are prone to renal problems and medical issues related to high protein diets.

Water: Water should be offered in a flat saucer. This can be a flat dish or a plastic saucer which is normally placed under a plant pot. These can be easily cleaned and sterilized once a week or as needed. Many keepers will simply remove their SULCATA from the enclosure and soak it in shallow water once a week. This will give the small tortoise some water to drink and will let it rehydrate.

Turtle Diet

HEALTH

Sulcatas require warm, dry environments and so keepers living in humid areas should be very careful about keeping SULCATAS outdoors. Living on the damp ground will cause serious medical problems with these tortoises.

Though Sulcatas are quite tame, most tortoises probably do not enjoy being handled. They usually won't retreat into their shells and will usually look around to see what is going on. They can be hand-fed and red strawberries, pieces of melon, and hibiscus flowers are some of their favorite treats. Specimens that have been raised from small, captive-hatched babies and which are open to daily interaction over many years become the most tame and easily handled captives.

As Sulcatas are really only available as captive-hatched babies these days, a keeper should not be concerned about internal parasites unless a baby has been kept in the enclosure with wild-caught adults or wild-caught tortoises of another species (A HUGE MISTAKE!). Long-term lack of appetite, runny or smelly stools, and blood in the feces are signs of a problem and a keeper should approach a qualified veterinarian if any of these signs are noticed.

Note: Sulcatas are among the most hardy and outgoing of the pet tortoises. They do, however, get much larger than most owners can deal with. They grow relatively quickly, are very powerful, and require a lot of food (and a varied diet). A keeper must consider these needs before purchasing a Sulcata.

PLEASE do not ever release a SULCATA or any reptile pet into the wild. There are adoption organizations that will take your unwanted pet, no questions asked, and find the proper captive environment for it. (www.ttpg.org for details)

Turtle Community

COMMUNITY

Recommended Reading

RECOMMENDED READING

Devaux, B. 2000. La tortue qui pleure (The crying tortoise) Geochelone sulcata (Miller; 1779). Chelonii vol. 1. SOPTOM. France.

Fedorchuck, W. 1999-2000. “African Spurred Tortoise Profile and Maintenance Guide” (On-line). Accessed at http://www.tortoiseaid.org/sulcata.html.

Gurley, R. 2005. SULCATAS in Captivity (with notes on other popular tortoises). ECO publishing, Lansing, MI.

Gurley, R. 2003. The African Spurred Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata, In Captivity. Taxon Media. Lanesboro, MN.

Highfield, A. 1996. Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Tortoises. Carapace Press. England.

Highfield, A. 2000. The Turtle and Tortoise Feeding Manual. Carapace Press. England.

Kaplan, M. 1996. Sulcata Tortoises - African Spurred Tortoises, Geochelone sulcata. Visit

Paull, R.C. 1997. Great African Spur-thighed or Sulcata Tortoise Geochelone sulcata. Green Nature Books. Homestead, FL.

Pritchard, P.C.H. 1979. Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Neptune, NJ.

Stearns, B. C. 1988. Captive husbandry and propagation of the African Spurred Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata. Proceedings, International Herpetology Symposium, San Antonio, TX.

Wilson, R. and R. Wilson. 1997. The Care and Breeding of the African Spurred Tortoise Geochelone sulcata. Carapace Press, London.