Tortoises should live freely outdoors. However, under some conditions a tortoise must be kept indoors separate from other tortoises for a few days: 1) The burrow is not complete and the tortoise needs a cool place to spend the hottest part of the day, and 2) The tortoise has an open wound and protection from flies is vital. The following setup will help avoid the extreme distress to a tortoise if it is confined to a box or very small area.
Total Area Needed. If possible, give the tortoise the freedom of at least one room. Small juveniles should have an area at least 5′ x 10′. A piece of lumber at least 12″ to 18″ wide can be supported across each doorway to keep the tortoise in yet allow you to leave the doors open. To give the tortoise only part of a room, create fencing of cardboard cartons tall enough to prevent the tortoise from reaching the top with it front legs and heavy enough to prevent the tortoise from moving the boxes.
Where there is access to the walls, the tortoise will tend to move along them, so secure extension cords up out of reach. For furnishings that might tip over, move them at least a tortoise width away from the wall. Free a corner of the room for the temporary burrow. A dark corner is best.
The “Burrow.” For the burrow use a cardboard box that is just wide enough for the tortoise to turn around and two to three times the length of the tortoise. Remove one of the long sides making a U shape. If necessary, trim the sides so they will clear the top of the tortoise by about 2″ (see figure below). For more than one tortoise, make a burrow for each. Cut a hole in one of the short ends just large for the tortoise to pass through. If the box is the proper width, just remove one of the short ends.
Turn the U-shaped box over so the open side is on the floor in the chosen corner. To protect the floor, lay a piece of waterproof plastic on the floor and cover with several sections of newspaper. Replace them when soiled. If the tortoise soils the floor covering elsewhere, have ready a bottle of “Natures Miracle,” found in most pet supply stores.
When everything is set up, show the tortoise the burrow. The tortoise should be attracted to it, remember it and use it.
For hatchlings and very small tortoises, do NOT use newspaper for the flooring where they walk about. Newspaper is slick and a strain on their legs. Small tortoises are so lightweight that they cannot gain enough traction to use their legs properly. So, instead of slippery paper, use indoor/outdoor carpet or the back side of regular carpeting. These alternatives give traction and no tangles for those long nails. Watch that toenails do not become caught.
Temperature Regulation. The tortoise will regulate its temperature on its own if given the needed options. To provide for the tortoise to regulate its temperature, set up a heat source, even in summer. Use a clamp-on light socket made of porcelain to shine a 75 watt reflector bulb from about 10″ to 12″ above the floor so the tortoise can get under it and warm its body to the needed temperature for eating and digesting food.
The light can be clamped to a free edge of a cardboard box cut to the proper height. Clamp the socket so it shines outside the box. Put heavy articles in the box so it does not tip over because of the weight of the light fixture or if nudged by the tortoise. If more than one tortoise is using your setup, you may have to use more than one light. Do this on the side of the tortoise enclosure away from the burrow. Turn the light on and off as the sun rises and sets or use a timer clock and set it to be on from 6 am to 8 pm. Do NOT use a heat lamp or a UV bulb that produces heat. Once the tortoise is eating Tortoise Food regularly there will be need for the cool UV bulb and fixture sold for reptiles.
Before you introduce the tortoise, place a reliable thermometer on the floor directly under the reflector bulb. When the temperature has stabilized, raise or lower the fixture to create 94° F. The temperature in the burrow should stay between 76° and 80° F.
Food and Water Place the food on several thickness of newspaper or on a flat dish. Do this for the water dish but at a layer of waterproof material under the paper. Do this away from the lamp. If you are feeding more than one tortoise at the same time, try to feed them separately to avoid competition and walking over the food. Tortoise normally live and eat alone.
Feed Tortoise Food. Tortoise Group sells it online and at homes throughout the Las Vegas area. Click here for more information. Tortoise Food contains Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, vital for healthy growth especially for strong bones. If the sun shines through window glass on the tortoise, the tortoise will probably bask there. This provides some warmth but none of the ultraviolet light needed to produce Vitamin D.
It is vital that the tortoise eat the most nourishing food. A diet with no Tortoise Food will tend to cause unnatural growth externally and internally that you may not notice.