Sulcata Tortoise Care Sheet

    This care sheet will address key issues for Sulcata tortoise care.  Our babies are kept in 24"(L)x18"(W)x8"(H) tupperware enclosures for the first 12 months of life (larger containers are fine too).  They are kept on newspaper substrate for the first two months.  The substrate is then changed to a mixture of topsoil (no additives, especially perlite) and pre-washed and dried play sand.  A mixture of one part sand to three parts topsoil works well.  A small hide box is provided for sleeping security.  Lighting is provided by an 18" full spectrum fluorescent bulb and fixture placed on top of the enclosure (approximately 8 inches above the substrate).  An incandescent light fixture is also clipped onto the enclosure using a bulb of no more than 40 to 60 watts to provide a daytime basking temperature of no more than 110 degrees F (with the cool side of the enclosure remaining at ambient room temp).  Turn lights on and off with the natural light cycle of the year.   Note:  A UVA/UVB (heat and UV light in one bulb) self ballasted lamp may be used, but the lowest wattage is recommended along with a larger enclosure to help avoid overheating!  Nighttime warmth can be provided by a temperature controlled environment or if necessary, a low wattage heat pad under approximately 25% of the enclosure.  The hide box is placed over the heat-pad location in the later case.  Turn the heat pad on only at night using a timer set to come on after the daytime lights have been turned off and shut off again before dawn.  It is very important that areas heated at one time be at one end of the enclosure.  Tortoises naturally thermo-regulate their bodies and need a cool end of the enclosure in addition to a warm end.  The warm end of the enclosure should never be hot to the touch.  Lightly mist young babies with room temperature drinking water every third or fourth day.  Enclosures can be provided with a very shallow water dish.  Deli cup lids work well.  Ensure that water is clean and offer water every other to third day.

    A diet that has worked well over the years for Sulcata tortoises in our collection is as follows:  Keep the diet relatively low in protein and relatively high in fiber.  Our food items are dusted with Rep-Cal brand calcium supplement containing Vitamin D3 twice a week for the first year of life and once every week for the rest of the animal's life.  Food items offered: Natural grasses and edible weeds, true leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, endive, escarole, red-tip leaf lettuce, small amounts of green beans, yellow squash, small amounts of kale, small amounts of soaked monkey biscuits (once every four to six weeks when young), washed hibiscus leaves and flowers (no pesticides), and fresh cut grasses only if you know the composition and it's pesticide free and cuttle bone.  Feed babies at least 4 to 6 times a week for the first year.  We then reduce feedings to 2 times a week in addition to natural grass grazing.  Adults are left to graze with occasional 'treats' in the form of the above mentioned items.

    Sulcata offspring are generally put outside after about 12 months of age.  There is no substitute for natural sunlight and temperature.  Outdoors it becomes critical that your tortoise live in a secure enclosure safe from predators and the elements.  Ensure that local dogs and children cannot get to the tortoises.  You may want to take a young tortoise inside at night.  Adequate shade and hide boxes are an important factor for an outdoor enclosure.  Young tortoises can die very quickly when exposed to direct, full-sun for periods of time as short as 15 minutes, so be careful!  Recommended temperature limits are a low of 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night up to a daily high of 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Tortoise size is your main concern.  Space is something every Sulcata tortoise will need in the future.  Size of the enclosure will play a key role as the tortoise grows.  Remember that Sulcatas can grow to 200lbs!  However 75 to 120lbs is more typical in a healthy long lifetime.  Typical growth for our collection is approximately 20 to 30 lbs. over the first five-year period of the tortoise's life.  Our adults on average gain about 3 to 5 lbs. each year.  Sulcata staying outside typically are inclined to dig a burrow to live in.  We do not recommend this as it can be too difficult to monitor the activity of the tortoise and may become a means of escape. We recommend building a small insulated and heated house for the tortoise to seek shelter in.  Train the animal by placing it inside the house each evening.  We hope this brief guideline gives more insight into Sulcata tortoises and their care.

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