Your Guide to Caring for a Sulcata Tortoise
Sulcata tortoise owners say that these animals make amazing pets, but owning one isn't like owning a dog or a cat.
That's because it isn't exactly easy — in fact, owning a giant tortoise requires lifelong commitment and responsibility. Before you become a pet parent to one, there are some things you should know first.
Luckily, we have you covered with this guide about sulcata tortoise care.
A Sulcata Tortoise Will Live Longer Than You Will
Even if you were to get a giant tortoise as a pet on the day you were born, the chances of you outliving it are pretty slim. Sulcata tortoises (also called African spurred tortoises) can live anywhere from 70 to 100 years or more.
If you really want one as a pet, think about its care when you pass, and make sure the person taking your place wants to take on this level of responsibility.
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They Have Specific Living Space Requirements
Tortoises need large pens and covered shelters to thrive. They do better outdoors than inside due to their size.
Many people think they can swim, but they cannot — they should not be around deep water, but they can (and love to) soak in a shallow pool.
Make Sure to Have Plenty of Vegetation Handy
Tortoises (unlike turtles) are generally herbivores. They survive on grass, grass hays and vegetables like lettuce, green beans, collard greens, mustard greens, zucchini, squash and dandelion greens.
They can have the occasional piece of fruit but only as a treat — fruit should be no more than 5 percent of their diet.
Tortoises Can Be Very Destructive
Giant tortoises — particularly the sulcata species — are burrowers, which is how they stay warm or cool down if they don't have proper shelter. In the wild, burrows can be up to 25 feet deep and 3 feet wide. This means the closer they burrow to a house, the easier it is to damage a home's foundation.
Sulcatas are also prone to ramming people (to get their attention) and objects (to make their space larger). As they are well over 100 pounds, that may not only mean bruises and broken bones for you but also a trashed house.
They're Not Aggressive, but They Can Bite
A tortoise can bite. How severe the bite depends on its size — the bigger the animal, the more damage it can do.
While tortoises are not generally aggressive animals, some species can be more defensive or prone to stress than others. Males can also become territorial, depending on the season.
However, most bites happen by accident, so if you feed a giant tortoise by hand, be careful when doing so.
Make Sure to Wash Your Hands After Handling a Tortoise
Turtles and tortoises carry salmonella, so make sure your hands are clean after touching your pet or anything in their living space. And when cleaning your tortoise's belongings, make sure to do it outside.
Sulcata tortoises should remain out of homes of those with weakened immune systems or children under 5 years old.
Tortoises Can Be Affectionate
Tortoises do not need to be around others of their kind to be content. They are perfectly happy as the only pet.
Nevertheless, they do show affection to their chosen family. They'll follow you around, let you handle them, feed from your hands and come when you call. (But remember to wash your hands afterward!)
Consistency in Temperature Is Important for a Tortoise
Tortoises are, of course, cold-blooded. This means the temperatures they are living in must be frequently monitored and adjusted as needed. Never let them get too hot or too cold.
Aquatic tortoises need water temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Like Any Other Animal, They Need Regular Vet Visits
Like all other animals, tortoises require annual vet visits, where they'll get a physical check-up and overall health assessment.
Getting a giant tortoise to the vet does require some planning. Since they can weigh well over 100 pounds, you'll need help getting them into your car.
Make Sure They're Legal in Your State
While most states allow people to own giant tortoises, the types of tortoises they can own depend on the state, so check with your local laws first.
For example, in California, it is illegal to purchase, sell or breed desert tortoises — however, you can adopt them but only if they were born before 1972 and only if you have a permit. Other non-native tortoises do not have the same restrictions.
In New York, owning native reptiles is illegal. A permit is required for all non-native species listed as endangered or threatened. There are no restrictions if they are non-native and unprotected, but they cannot be released into the wild.
RELATED: 45 Animals That Are Illegal to Own