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How to Care* for Your Sulcata Tortoise

How to Care* for Your Sulcata Tortoise

(photo credit Turtle Source)


Sulcata Tortoises, also called African spurred tortoises (Centrochelys Sulcata, formerly considered to be part of the Geochelone genus), are very large (24”-30” carapace length, weighing 75-100 pounds), long-lived (up to 70 years), terrestrial, diurnal reptiles native to the north central African desert. Their shells and limbs are generally beige patterned with furrows —“sulcata” in Latin— between the scutes of their shells, from which their species and common name are taken.  Although they are only several inches long as hatchlings, their large size and long life make them a difficult species to keep properly.  Please do not obtain one if you are not prepared to house and feed such a large reptile.  Sulcata Tortoises are considered to be an advanced level pet.


Sulcata Tortoises are best housed outdoors in a large, penned enclosure.  The enclosure needs to meet the following criteria: large enough for the tortoise to be able to walk around and explore, walls extending 10-12” above and below ground level to prevent escape through climbing or burrowing, safe from possible outdoor predators, heated hide area for colder weather, shaded area for warmer weather, growing grasses for snacking.  There should be a water bowl large enough for the tortoises to soak in, but shallow enough for them not to be submerged.  The bowl should be cleaned out regularly.  

Heating and Lighting

In their native habitat, daytime temperatures may reach 100F with a night time drop-off below 70F.  Some keepers have reported that their tortoises have been able to tolerate an even greater temperature variation as long as they are provided with appropriate areas to cool themselves, and receive heat and humidity.  This will generally include a heated hide, shade area, water, and opportunity to burrow. They may need to be encouraged to move to these areas at the appropriate times.  Sulcata Tortoises kept outdoors will generally receive adequate UV light from the sun.  If kept indoors, they will require 12-14 hours a day of full spectrum lighting. The recommended UVB light is a full-spectrum 10.0 florescent bulb that runs most of the length of the enclosure.  The fixture can be placed inside the cage underneath the cover or on top of a mesh cover.  If the fixture is placed on top of the cage, a glass cage cover should not be used, since the UVB will not penetrate through the glass.  Florescent bulbs decrease in the amount of UVB emitted with time.  It’s safest to replace the bulb every 6 months, though a more accurate schedule can be determined if a UV meter is purchased and used to check UV levels.

Food and Supplementation

Sulcata Tortoises require a high fiber, low protein diet.  Most of their intake should be in the form of  grasses and hay. They can also be fed limited amounts of commercially available tortoise pellets which must be moistened, as well as Repashy Grassland Grazer gel. Sulcata Tortoises enjoy cactus pads and prickly cactus fruit as well as very limited amounts of dark leafy greens and fruits.

Sulcata Tortoises require calcium to build strong bones, vitamin D3 to metabolize the calcium and a variety of other vitamins and minerals.  They are generally provided with the calcium, vitamins and minerals they need through the grasses they consume and with the vitamin D3 from the sun or full spectrum lighting if kept indoors.  If additional calcium is needed,  their grass and hay can be sprinkled with plain, powdered calcium carbonate (without phosphorous).

*This care sheet contains only very basic information.  If you are new to Sulcata Tortoises, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.

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