Sulcata Tortoise

Biological Facts

The African spurred tortoise is native to the Sahara desert and the Sahel, a transitional ecoregion of semiarid grasslands, savannas, and thorn shrublands found in the countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan In these arid regions, the tortoise excavates burrows in the ground to get to areas with higher moisture levels, and spends the hottest part of the day in these burrows. This is known as aestivation. Burrows may average 30 inches in depth; some dig tunnel systems extending 10 feet or more underground.


Sulcata tortoises are herbivores. Primarily, their diets consist of many types of grasses and plants, high in fiber and very low in protein. Feeding of fruit should be avoided.

As pets

Due to their reputation for having a pleasant temperament, sulcata tortoises are sometimes kept as pets, despite presenting significant challenges. They require large enclosures, temperatures above 60F (16 °C), and bedding composed of grasses or grass-based hay. Due to their high dietary fiber needs, grasses form a minimum of 75% of their food intake. To remain healthy, they require sufficient calcium for bone and shell development, low protein, and minimal fruit or sugary foods. Whereas wild tortoises obtain enough calcium from the soil, pets generally require calcium supplements. Young sulcatas grow quickly and can double in size each year during the first three years.

Water Requirements

Tortoises do require some water! Dehydration is the most common health problem that hatchling tortoises can experience, and it can actually be fatal to them. Always make sure your tortoise has access to drinking water! Provide a water bowl large enough for the tortoise to climb into, but shallow enough that the tortoise won’t drown in it. The plastic or terracotta saucers that go underneath potted plants make excellent water bowls.

Sulcatas Need Exercise

Sulcatas are very active tortoises. They evolved to walk long distances daily while searching for food in their sparsely-vegetated surroundings. It’s not a good idea, though, to allow your tortoise to walk around inside your home unsupervised. They have been known to bite cords, push around furniture, knock over and eat potted plants and so forth. The best way to accomodate your tortoise’s need for exercise to is provide a securely-fenced outdoor yard where it can walk, graze, and get exposure to sunlight, all at the same time


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