The African Spurred Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) has been gaining in popularity for years. These Big Tortoises have an even larger personality and, given the right care, can make awe inspiring pets.
African Spurred Tortoises are the largest species of Tortoise that doesn’t live on an island (like the well known Galapagos and Aldabra Tortoises). This makes them the third largest species of tortoise in the world!
They can live for over 100 years and will grow to a shell length of between 18-36 inches. It is not uncommon for these Tortoises to grow to over 100 lbs and individuals over 200 lbs are known
African Spurred Tortoise Enclosure
Young African Spurred Tortoises (up to a shell length of 8″) require a tortoise table as their enclosure. This is because tortoise tables allow the maximum surface area for your tortoise to roam and regulate their temperature. Wooden vivariums do not offer sufficient airflow. This can cause high humidity which can lead to respiratory problems. Glass tanks are also unsuitable for the same reason. As tortoise tables have an open top, they should be placed on a stable base and away from other pets or small children.
Juvenile African Spurred Tortoises tend to avoid wide open spaces in the wild and so add plenty of decoration to your enclosure.
A small rocky area directly under the basking spot is a good idea. This is so that your pet can’t fall on its back under the basking spot. Tortoises can right themselves as long as they can gain purchase with their legs. Consider this when decorating the set up.
Larger Tortoises need an outdoor enclosure. As these tortoises do not and can not hibernate, this enclosure must have heating and UV light all year round. It is essential that a secondary heat source with a separate thermostat is included. This second thermostat should be set to a few degrees lower than the main one. This way if the main heat source stops working, the back up will take over temporarily.
Bear in mind that when fully grown, African Spurred Tortoises can be nearly 10 stone of living bulldozer! For this reason, the enclosure must be escape proof.
African Spurred Tortoises require a basking temperature of 85-90°F (30-32°C). This is the warmest temperature directly under the heat bulb. The cooler areas of the table need to be around 68°F (20°C). For this reason, it is best to position the lamp towards the side of the table furthest from the bedding area. For juveniles kept in a warm home, you may turn heat and UVB bulbs off at night. If temperatures drop below 59°F (15°C) at night time, we recommend adding a ceramic heat emitter. These do not give off any light so they won’t disturb your or your pets sleeping pattern.
Cold and damp conditions are not tolerated by most tortoise species and exposure will cause health problems. All tortoises are exceptionally hardy if cared for correctly.
Ultra violet light (UVB) is essential for all species of tortoise. They use it to make vitamin D3 which is needed for the formation of bone. Without a proper source of UVB, pet tortoises cannot absorb calcium properly and can develop metabolic bone disease (MBD) this means that their shell and bones will become soft and malformed.
In the wild, sunlight provides all of the necessary ultra violet light your tortoise needs. In captivity, we can replicate this by using a fluorescent UVB lamp which is mounted on the side of the table out of reach of the tortoise. These lamps give of relatively little heat so a separate heat bulb is essential. Our preferred solution is to use a mercury vapour lamp which provides the tortoise with both heat and UVB together. These lamps are very efficient and easy to mount using a ceramic reflector lamp holder.
What Do African Spurred Tortoises Eat?
African Spurred Tortoises are herbivores. In the wild they are grazing animals and need to eat a large quantity of food with a relatively low nutritional value. They eat many types of grasses both fresh and dried.
It is important to try to get the most natural balanced type of diet and replicate the nutrients that these tortoises need. This means that grasses should make up 80-90% of the diet. The remaining 10-20% should be high quality greens and flowers.
Fresh Grasses are ideal but you may also use timothy hay or orchard hay.
Some healthy fresh greens include…
- Dandelion leaves and flowers
- Spring greens
- Collard greens
- Types of chard
Everybody knows someone that used to keep a tortoise and likes to give advice. Just because their tortoise once got by on a poor diet it doesn’t mean it thrived.
Foods to avoid like the plague…
- Bread: tortoises can not digest starch so bread has no nutritional value to them.
- Milk: Tortoises can’t digest lactose, milk will cause severe stomach upset and dehydration through diarrhea.
- Fruit: These tortoises can’t digest sugars. It may ferment in the stomach and cause ilness.
- Dog food: Far too high in protein and causes renal (kidney) failure.
- Cat food: For the same reasons as dog food.
- Brassicas: (such as cabbage and sprouts) These stop tortoises absorbing calcium from other foods.
- Spinach: Again, this food is high in oxalates and prevents calcium from being absorbed.
- Iceberg Lettuce: Mainly water and of no nutritional value.
If African Spurred Tortoises are offered a diet too high in protein, their shells will develop “pyramids” this can be indicative of a poor diet and other health problems.
To guarantee that your African Spurred Tortoise is getting enough calcium (that shell requires a lot to grow) we recommend adding a calcium powder supplement to the food two or three times a week.
Healthy tortoises get most of the water they need from their diet. It is still important to provide them with a shallow bowl just in case. The bowl should be large enough to allow your pet tortoise to bathe and have low sides that allow easy access. The water bowl must be kept clean daily. Clean up spilled water as soon as you notice it as high humidity may cause health problems.
African Spurred Tortoise Substrate
African Spurred Tortoises come from a dry environment in the wild. High humidity can cause respiratory problems and for this reason, your choice of substrate is very important. The Ideal substrate should be dry, dust free, soft and non-abrasive. Special tortoise substrates that consist of dry earth and sand mixed together and are ideal. Occasionally, it is natural for a pet tortoise to ingest a little substrate as they feed. Because of this, wood chips and other “chunky” substrates are no good.
Tortoises love to dig so we like to vary the depth across the enclosure for a more natural feel.
African Spurred Tortoises do not hibernate. They come from an environment where temperatures are warm and consistent. These tortoises still retain the biological mechanism to attempt to hibernate but their metabolism does not slow down, it will just stop. They are physically incapable of hibernating.
Other things to remember
When kept properly, Tortoises make extremely hardy pets and they can live for over 100 years! We have found that with gentle handling, they seem to love attention and can spend time out of the enclosure with supervision from their owner. Remember though that it is not a good idea to let other pets get too close. Many animals eat tortoises in the wild and your new pet tortoise won’t know the difference between other pets and predators.
As with any animal, always wash your hands after handling. It is a good idea to wash pets bowls away from your own.
When your pet African Spurred Tortoise first arrives, leave him/her in the enclosure for a few days without handling. Tortoises get used to their surroundings and any move can be scary to them. many don’t eat for up to a week when they are settling in. There is no cause for alarm as they are cold blooded and do not gain energy from food in quite the same way we do.
African Spurred Tortoises are a giant tortoise with gentle characters but they are a HUGE responsibility! This is an animal that may well outlive you and will need at the very least, two people to move when fully grown. Lots of people think that it is okay to purchase a baby and worry about it when it gets big but this never works out well. These are relatively fast growing tortoises.
Lastly, if you can offer a giant tortoise the care and space that it will need as an adult we hope that you and your new pet enjoy each others company for many years to come.
Please do not impulse buy pets. Tortoises live a long time and while they are easy to keep, they do need specialist care. If your circumstances change and you are unable to look after your pet, we will always provide it with a good home. We will never offer money back for a pet so be sure that you have made a well informed decision before purchasing. We offer this service as aftercare, not as a business transaction.