Do Not Adopt or Buy a Sulcata Unless You Are Prepared to Provide the Special Needs of a 200-pound Tortoise with a Shell that May Exceed 21/2′.
The Sulcata or Spurred Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata lives in central Africa where rainfall ranges from 2-4″ in some areas to 8-12″ in others. The temperatures range from lows of 50-63 to highs of 86-109 degrees F, neither as cold nor as hot as the Mojave Desert where our desert tortoises live. (The Spur-thighed tortoise is a smaller, totally different species).
- Sulcatas are an exceptional responsibility. Did you realize that the cute little tortoise will grow to be a critter weighs up to 200 pounds and measures 21/2″ in carapace length? No? Who will take your sulcata when you can no longer care for it? Tortoise Group is usually offered several in a season, and we don’t take them. Sulcatas are one of the more common tortoises sold by pet stores to unwary customers who are rarely given the information above. Instead you may be encouraged to buy hundreds of dollars of equipment that is not appropriate and not safe for a sulcata of any age. You may be so attracted by the young that are so cute that you do everything the sales person suggests-a totally irresponsible action on their part. Go home and read about sulcata care. Don’t accept the pitch of the salesperson until you have learned that there are more reasons for not having a sulcata than for having one.
- Heated housing. Sulcatas are active year round. Their shelter must be large enough for the full grown adults, a place where they can move about, eat, sleep, and drink if they do not wish to go outside when outdoor temps are cool to cold. A pet door may save your making the decision of exactly when to allow them outside in early spring and late summer. When mornings and nights are too cold for them to spend outdoors, then the temperatures on the floor of the house should be 85-90 degrees in several places, large enough for a tortoise to rest on and keep warm enough to eat.
- Protection from the extreme heat of our desert. This is vital. You need to provide free access to an air-conditioned indoor area or help the tortoise by digging an underground burrow. The soils in many yards are a challenge. See our booklet, Desert Tortoises Adoption and Care.
- A large enclosure at least 40 x 60 f t. Eventually, your entire yard may not be large enough, although it is larger than what might work fine for a desert tortoise. We recommend that you do not share the yard with our desert tortoise or any other species. If the area is not large enough, expect the sulcata to ram walls and knock over items, small trees and shrubs. These problems may start when the tortoise is about 30 pounds and by the time it is 80 pounds this behavior can be intolerable. Too small an area and lack of enough of the right food can aggravate this behavior and be stressful to the tortoise as well as to you.
- A high fiber diet that includes Timothy grass, alfalfa hay, and common Bermuda grass. Grocery store greens will not provide enough fiber or a complete diet. Tortoise Food, that Tortoise Group sells, helps with the needed fiber and has the basic nutrients needed including trace elements that you cannot provide with just grocery store vegetables.
- Scats (fecal droppings) that are runny can be a sign of insufficient fiber. You can grow white clover, alfalfa, common Bermuda, and an assortment of ornamental flowers but no sweet fruit. These tortoises, like our desert tortoise, may eat small stones, bits of glass, bone, foil, colored paper, fur, feathers, and balloon fragments, so keep the yard litter-free.
- If you conclude that you can handle one sulcata, we suggest that you not get into breeding them. That will lead to more young for which you can find homes or keep. To give them to a pet shop just continues the problem.