The African spurred tortoise, also known as the sulcata tortoise, belongs to the species geochelone sulcata. It originally resided on the southern edge of the Sahara desert, in Northern Africa, which is a semi-arid region. As such, these animals are capable of living in a harsh environment. They are the third largest species of tortoises. They make wonderful pets, mainly because of their friendly personality, and make great companions for pet lovers. However, they require very specific care and maintenance. Given below is some information about the same.
These tortoises require a warm and dry environment, along with natural sunlight to be able to grow and survive well. It is very important for their growth.
Temperature: These tortoises require temperatures ranging between 75°F-85°F (23°C-29°C) during the day. At night, the temperature should be lower than the day, but not lower than 60°F (16°C). Though they require a warm environment, they also need an area where they can cool down and get some respite from the heat. Prepare an area such as a shade for this purpose. During winter, a large and secure area, kept warm using a UVB light is required for the tortoise to survive.
Light: Vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient that provides calcium for strong bones and a good, hard shell, which the animals obtain through natural sunlight. Thus, it is important to allow them to spend a minimum of 20 minutes in the sun. If that is not possible due to weather conditions such as snow, vitamin D3 can be provided to them through an artificial UVB light. There are several bulbs and tubes that are available to provide indoor heat and help in the development of this important nutrient in the animals. These lights should be replaced at regular intervals, as their capacity to provide heat and produce vitamin D3 reduces with prolonged use.
Space: Do not keep this tortoise in an aquarium, as it is a large animal. Rather, create a tortoise table for it, as the ventilation and space is better suited especially for indoor housing. These tortoises require uncluttered spaces so they can move around freely. They grow very large over time, and eventually, it is not possible to keep them indoors. Creating a secure, well-ventilated, and warm shed outdoors is a good option.
Substrate: The substrate or bedding should be one that you can easily maintain. Also, it should be safe, as there is a possibility of the tortoise swallowing it. Suitable materials include an orchid bark, a newspaper, and soil. Even alfalfa rabbit pellets are safe, but they require special attention as they mold rapidly. Avoid substrates such as sand, corncob, walnut shells, wood, cedar, and pine shavings, as these are dangerous if ingested. As these tortoises also require moisture to prevent dehydration, their habitat should be able to provide for good humidity. If it is less than 40%, you will need to add moisture to the substrate.
Water: Sulcata tortoises, especially hatchlings, tend to dehydrate easily. Thus, they require sufficient water not only to drink, but also to soak themselves. Give them a bowl of water that is large enough for them to fit in without drowning. It should be shallow. Tortoises that are less than one year old should be soaked in water everyday. The ones who are between 1-5 years of age should be soaked 2-3 times a week. The adults should be provided with a shallow water bowl which they can use when required.
Diet and Exercise
You have to be very particular about the diet of this tortoise, as the food that it cannot or should not eat exceeds that which it can. It mainly requires a diet that is rich in fiber and low in proteins, in order to remain healthy. Feeding it the wrong food will result in the development of a bumpy shell with pyramids, and lead to health problems that may prove fatal. In addition to this, these tortoises require adequate calcium and vitamin supplements as they have fast growth. The best way to provide them calcium is to sprinkle some calcium carbonate on freshly-washed weeds or greens and feed it to them. This practice should be followed about 3-4 times in a week.
Though they are slow and heavy, sulcata tortoises are known to be very active. Thus, they require a secure area outdoors, where they can freely walk. Do not allow them to walk indoors as they may not only hurt themselves, but also damage other objects in sight, such as furniture and potted plants (which they may also eat).
Sulcata tortoises are warm and friendly to those who care for them. Especially if they are hand-fed and treated to the occasional petting, they will develop a strong bond with their owner.