Sulcata Tortoise Care Sheet (Important Things to Know)

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The Sulcata Tortoise, also known as the African spurred tortoise, is a very common and popular pet tortoise in the exotic pet trade. It is in the top three largest tortoise species in the world and can grow to be over 200 pounds! Like other tortoise species, they are also long-lived, reaching ages of over 70 years. In this sulcata care sheet, we’ll give you some tips and suggestions to help you better care for your Sulcata Tortoise.

For people ready to commit to a lifelong friend, Sulcata tortoises are a popular choice due to their temperament and curiosity. Sulcata tortoises are not shy and are seemingly quite fond of their owners, making them some of the more social reptiles. 

Sulcata tortoise care sheet

Common name: Sulcata tortoise, African spurred tortoise
Scientific name: Centrochelys sulcata
Range: Sahara desert and surrounding countries, north-central Africa
Lifespan: 50-70+ years
Adult size: ~32 inches, 100+ pounds
Temperament: Friendly, curious, docile

Housing

Like with any other animal, Sulcata tortoises have specific needs in order to make sure they have a proper habitat set-up to live a happy and healthy life. Because of their large adult size, caring for them as hatchlings or young tortoises can be much different than when they are full grown.

Baby Sulcata tortoises are only a few inches long, so for the first year or so of their life, an 18” x 18” in tank will be sufficient. However, these tortoises grow quickly and will need an upgrade. Most people will then move their tortoises to an outdoor set-up, so long as they live somewhere where the temperature does not drop below 50 degrees.

Sulcata tortoises do not need to be kept outside, however once they are a couple of years old they will need an enclosure large enough for them to roam around. Some owners will convert a large shed or garage into a tortoise habitat. 

In addition to having enough space, the most crucial aspect of a Sulcata Tortoise habitat is having a place for your pet to hide. In the wild, they create burrows to shelter from the elements, so it is important to make sure they have access to a shelter. Some people will even use modified doghouses to create a hideout for their tortoise.


Temperature and lighting  

Given that Sulcata tortoises live in the desert, it is safe to assume that their enclosures need to be kept pretty warm and dry. During the day, temperatures should be kept between 70 and 90 degrees. However, these tortoises can tolerate much hotter temperatures so long as they have shelter. At night, enclosures can be kept cooler but should not dip below 65 – 70 degrees.

You should allow your tortoise to have an area in the enclosure for basking. To achieve this, you can get a basking lightbulb that will warm the basking area up to 90+ degrees. This light should be kept on for 10 – 12 hours per day.

In addition to keeping your tortoise warm, you will also need to consider making sure your tortoise has access to UV light. If you keep your tortoise outside, then you do not need to worry about providing a UVB light. If not, you will need to purchase a bulb that will also need to be kept on for 10 – 12 hours per day.


Diet and feeding  

Some reptiles can be harder to feed than others and may actually refuse food. This is not the case with Sulcata tortoises. So long as they are healthy, Sulcata tortoises are very hearty eaters.

They will eat virtually anything leafy and green and will graze on any grass that’s in their enclosure. They will even eat certain cacti! Conveniently, you can feed your Sulcata tortoise with a spring mix that you can pick up in any grocery store. They also eat hay and other dried vegetation. 

You can also give your tortoise fruit, but only occasionally as a treat. Too much fruit can cause digestive issues for Tortoises due to the sugar content. It is also a good idea to provide your tortoise with calcium supplements as calcium helps to keep their shells strong and healthy.


Substrate  

Due to their habitat in the wild, Sulcata Tortoises should have a substrate in their enclosure that is on the drier side, however this doesn’t mean that you should use solely sand in your tortoises’ enclosure. 

Instead, an equal mix of soil and sand makes a great substrate to use. You can also use coconut fiber with a mix of sand. As a general rule, the substrate in your set-up should be at least two inches deep, but closer to six inches is ideal.

If you have a tortoise enclosure that is outside or at least partly outside, just lawn grass also makes a great substrate for these species. 


Maintenance

Cleaning your tortoises enclosure includes more regular cleanings, called spot checks, and then deep cleanings every month or so.

Spot checking consists of removing any poop or urate (white, pellet looking things) from the enclosure every other day or so if not daily. You should also remove any food that has been sitting in the enclosure for more than a day or so.

Deep cleaning is a little bit more time consuming. You will need to remove all of the bedding before disinfecting and washing the surfaces in the enclosure. It is important to be careful about the chemicals you use to clear the enclosure, as the residue can be harmful to tortoises. Luckily, there are several products that are tortoise safe.


Handling

When Sulcata tortoises are young, they can be picked up and handled to an extent. However, it is not advised to handle your tortoise for long periods of time as it can cause them stress. Perhaps even more interesting than handling your pet Sulcata tortoise, is watching it roam around and explore it’s enclosure, your yard, or even your house.

With time, your Sulcata tortoise is likely to eat right out of your hand. You can also provide enrichment for your tortoise by stuffing a treat ball with tasty leafy greens, which will be entertaining for you and your pet. 


Other things to know

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that tortoises live a long time and often outlive their owners! It can be difficult to make that sort of commitment to an animal, which means that many people end up rehoming their tortoises. Before running to the pet store for a baby Sulcata tortoise, you should consider trying to find somebody wanting to re-home theirs. 

It is also super important to remember that these animals grow to be very large, and therefore require a lot of space! Once they reach adulthood, Sulcata tortoises are likely not a suitable pet for somebody that lives in a small apartment or does not have a yard, shed or garage to house them.


Sulcata tortoises as pets

Sulcata tortoises can make great pets for the right people. They are relatively low maintenance in the sense that they eat well and can handle variable temperature and humidity conditions and are just generally hearty animals. This can make them a great choice for somebody with little experience caring for reptiles.

However, due to their large size, they require a great deal of space at adulthood. Sulcata tortoise owners often sacrifice their backyard or shed to provide their pets with ample space, so this is something to consider. 

Overall though, these animals have a great temperament and typically seem to be curious and engaged with their owners which is certainly a benefit of keeping one. They are not shy, so you will get to watch them wander around and interact with their surroundings, which is not always the case with other, more secretive reptiles. If you do decide to get a Sulcata tortoise, you will surely not be disappointed with your new shelled friend!

About Jesse

My name is Jesse. I've always been interested in reptiles and have owned many different types in my life. On this blog I share some of the things I've learned over the years and am still learning about reptiles.