Raising a Sulcata isn’t for everyone!

Sharing your home with a Sulcata, or African Spurred Tortoise, requires vigilance.

These reptiles get very large, so along with a climate that accommodates a heat-seeking reptile you will also need to think about space. When you think you have enough space, find a little more!

We frequently find ourselves adding safety measures and strengthening his boundaries. Β Frankly, by this time of year I’m very happy to note that he is slowly preparing for his “long winter’s nap.”

We could use the break.

We brought Darwin into our home when Sophia was 6-months old, and next month she will celebrate her 10th birthday.

March, 2008

And then he started growing.

Sophia and Darwin, both three years old

Probably a few months later…

Karina feeding Darwin
Karina feeding Darwin

As soon as he began to gain in size we struggled with ways to guarantee his safety. He escaped our yard on more than one occasion and we were fortunate to find him in a neighbor’s yard. Sulcatas can move very fast and because they find a place to sleep when the sun goes down they can be hard to find if enough time passes.

Our biggest fears spiked to alarm when I found him “riding the rails” of our backyard G-scale train. What is not apparent in this particular photo is the very large water pond on the other side of the track. Tortoises do NOT swim!

He is now at least twice the size of when this photo was taken.

One reason I like to post about him is to encourage “new” Sulcata enthusiasts looking for shared information, and also because occasionally someone will reach out to me and add to my knowledge.

For instance, a few years ago someone very kindly told me in a post response that we were not observing the diet rules for a Sulcata. We thought we were being kind to Darwin feeding him broccoli and other expensive greens, but we learned the calcium in crucifers and other dark green Β vegetables created the”pyramids” on his shell, which are actually a sign of poor nutrition and deformity. I was crushed! But I was also grateful for the information.

Timothy hay is now his primary food source, but I do share some succulents with him, and he also loves hibiscus leaves and flowers.

As we have moved into September it seems to me that his appetite has slowed a little bit.

Notice all the wood, bricks and iron plates stacked around the perimeter–a little added precaution.

This photo may be a little difficult for you decipher, but it is our attempt to accommodate one of Darwin’s recent major digs! He chose a location adjacent our outdoor water heater which he could seriously undermine, but even more of a concern was the three-foot tunnel headed under the foundation of the house.

We backfilled much of the burrow and reinforced it with cardboard on top, as he likes boxes, with the addition of an inverted large plastic flower-pot in an attempt to give him the “feel” of a tunnel but with less danger.

He’s a smart animal and we didn’t fool him for one minute. We thought we were very clever, but he turned up his nose!

In our Southern California climate we don’t have many worries about his winter home. Although we provided a very protected shelter for him last winter, he still preferred an area under a large hibiscus bush. We added a tarp and a large patio umbrella when it rained.

We’ll start with this canopy, add an outdoor spotlight for some heat at night and he will let us know if we need more. Currently he heads to the canvas canopy in the heat of the day and then again at night. He knows how to find shelter.

I’m glad we have the space to accommodate his expanding size. So far anyway!

Earlier this summer I stopped my car when I saw a woman walking her tortoise.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I spent a few minutes admiring her tortoise, and then learned that she had rescued the Sulcata from a home no longer able to accommodate him. She didn’t have a lot of space, but was doing the best she could with him.

Sulcatas are frequently abandoned because people don’t factor in their rapidly growing requirements. I’ve been asked before if I could handle a rescue, but there is no way we would have the room.

I’ll leave you with a photo recently taken at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, California. If you click on the link you’ll also see a video I previously posted of Darwin on one of his major digs!

When I can’t take them all in, I can still support the wonderful shelters that exist to care for abandoned animals. If you live in Southern California this is a wonderful place to visit.

When Darwin settles in for his winter’s nap I’ll post again to let you say a fond “goodnight and


41 thoughts on “Raising a Sulcata isn’t for everyone!

    1. I’m not sure we asked enough questions when showing interest in Darwin, but I mentioned him and my mother bought him and presented him as a gift! Lol! Once he was ours, I did fully commit. I have never been able to understand how people can avoid any responsibility for an animal. Our dog is a rescue and I am not sure we needed a dog either! Lol! It’s probably good I live on an average suburban plot! I’d really like a pig, but I’ve been told “no!” πŸ˜‰

    1. It’s fun for me to share about Darwin as so few people take on the responsibility, which I understand. We recently had a large gathering at our house and everyone kept taking turns to go over to the side yard just to gawk! πŸ˜€

    1. I have never seen him bite or snap but I am always cautious! I think he’s a good 50-60 pounds and steadily growing! I do have a few concerns for the future! Ha!

  1. Because I’ve read many of Darwin’s tales of adventures, trials, and tribulations, this post (to me) served as the backstory – so many thanks for that. PLUS, you included great advice for others considering joining the adventure. Meanwhile, before settling into his winter nap, I’m sure Darwin has at least some adventures in store for you.

    1. I am actually thinking of creating a little .pdf care sheet that links to the blog as support to others. I’ve had to really search for the information and I love adding more details to web-research. I think you’re right about his adventures still being planned prior to nap time! πŸ˜…

    1. Thank you, Colleen. It’s difficult to convey the attributes we have determined to be part of his character, but he really does have personality. If we can keep him happy and satisfied we don’t find him too challenging. If we had the property/space I’d love to take a rescue. They’re fascinating creatures!

  2. Gail

    I was so happy to see Darwin’s baby picture! What a great shot, Debra. How would your neighborhood respond if you took him for a walk?!

    1. I think the walk in the neighborhood would be fun, but he is both smart and such a pattern-loving creature that I’m afraid he’d next try to initiate further walks by trying to break down the gate! Lol!

    1. The tunneling is my biggest concern, Cathy. A friend has a female Sulcata and she digs and tunnels but not with the same ferocity! We really do need to stay one step ahead of him if we can. πŸ˜‰

    1. He has the potential of being more than 100 pounds and with his powerful claws the digging does concern me. We are always trying to think about the next step! We are at an age when we could consider downsizing our home and responsibilities but he sure adds a wrinkle to our thinking! πŸ˜…

  3. I was surprised at his size back in 2008 ~ so tiny!!! Even if you can’t fool Darwin with the pseudo tunnel, I appreciate your efforts on his behalf.

    I think you should have set up a play date with that other Sulcata!

    1. You’re way ahead of me, Nancy! I probably should have at least shared some contact info with the other Sulcata Mom. Subconsciously I was probably wary based on already feeling a little overwhelmed by our own big guy! So good to read that you and others in your family haven’t sustained much storm damage. That must have been a wild ride, however!!

  4. I’ve been asleep at the wheel, here! Yikes! I almost missed this post – and I so enjoy your Darwin posts. πŸ™‚ How much he has grown and how fun to see Sophia growing with him. I can’t believe she is 10.
    I had to chuckle a bit at the women walking her tortoise as well ad appreciate her kind-heartedness in taking the Sulcata in. I have been amazed at many types of animals/creatures/birds etc. that have are being rescued in the aftermath of the hurricanes, and I remain amazed at the care and dedication you give to Darwin. Darwin the Digger. Wouldn’t that be a great children’s book?

    1. I ought to consider a children’s book for at least my own grandchildren, Penny! I do worry a little about Darwin’s long term needs, but I remind myself he’s probably more capable of caring for himself than I’m hoping we need to test! I, too, have really grieved for people separated from pets or simply unable to give them adequate attention in the aftermath of the storms. The added stress to their already overstretched limits makes me feel very sad. I heard one story of some kindhearted and perhaps brave soul out there rescuing squirrels. It was then that the magnitude of what pets and wildlife were experiencing really impacted me emotionally. I hope you’re having a good weekend, my friend.

  5. All pets challenge us as long as we take our responsibility to look after them. Sadly some of us shirk that responsibility. Clearly you don’t πŸ™‚ Well done on your ongoing Darwin Saga πŸ™‚ Sadly my pets these days are all electronic – when Paul passed on I decided that it was time to look after pixelated trucks instead!

  6. I often kept red eared sliders but they are messy and water needs to be changed almost every day. Had tortoises too but roaming dogs got them so turtles need protection of a secure pen. Your turtle will really love dog food even though he seems a herbivore.

    1. How distressing to have your tortoises attacked by dogs. There is so much responsibility that accompanies having any pet, and we try to be aware of potential risks, but occasionally we take a misstep! I’ll have to think bout the dog food! That could be interesting. πŸ™‚

  7. Sophia and Darwin are probably going to always remember each other. It works like part of being “family.” I liked the baby photo of Darwin, along with the sweet photo of Sophia and Darwin.
    Debra, I am glad you highlight some of the challenges of raising Darwin. I admire your being diligent and vigilant of his tricky nature! 🐒 Happy winter dreams, Darwin.

  8. Always love hearing what Darwin is up to. We had a ground hog try to dig under our foundation when we lived in New Hampshire but your Darwin’s tunnel is much, much bigger.

    1. I’m sorry to have taken so long to get back to my blog and read your lovely comment about Darwin, Karen. A week ago it was still very, very hot and he was moving around, but the weather has shifted to much cooler and overcast, so he is not coming out of that tunnel at all. I think we may be much closer to his quasi-hibernation period, which is actually quite nice for me. I can take my eyes off of all the potential exits! LOL! Your experience with a ground hog reminds me of the time we had skunks burrow under the house! That story will remain part of our family lore long after I’m gone! LOL! I hope you’re continuing to do well, my friend.

  9. I wonder why do animals get abandoned at all. The same puppy face that made us go awww becomes a look of disappointment when they age or when we are done. Just dislike it. You are doing wonderful work. Keep having fun with these friends.
    PS> I rescued a little turtle from a street this rainy season and let it go in my backyard. Since it’s a land turtle it dug in the ground and has not been seen since. I hope he/she is okay and growing. See you πŸ™‚

    1. I had to chuckle at your “disappearing” turtle! We’ve had the very same experience through the years. They have a way of escaping, and are surprisingly fast! Our dear Darwin has burrowed really deep this year, preparing for his winter’s nap, and I admit it worries me a bit. I’ve tried everything to provide him an “above ground” shelter, and he just doesn’t want it! I suppose we just have to trust that instinctually he knows what he needs! I don’t in any way understand people who neglect or abandon and animal. I think it’s terrible, but I have several friends very actively involved in animal rescue and they inspire me! Thank you so much for stopping by. I am so glad you did.

      1. I guess so too. Turtles and all animals knows whats best for them but only sometimes they require our help. It was a pleasure reading on your blog. Will drop by soon. See you πŸ™‚

  10. This was a great post. I was hoping to get a tortoise and did all of my research. I was really prepared. However, you showed me that now just isn’t a good time. I would like to say thank you. If I hadn’t read this post I probably would have gotten a tortoise that wouldn’t have the best life possible. I will continue to rescue lizards and aquatic turtles, and maybe one day I will be able to start rescuing tortoises as well. Thank you again, and have a great day.

    1. Thank you for sharing your approach with me, Gabe. I will say that not all tortoises have the same major requirements as these “big boy” Sulcatas. I think smaller tortoises are less frequently abandoned, though, too. You’re so right to do your research first. In all honesty, and this is my confession, we didn’t do enough before Darwin came to live with us. I’m not someone who will abandon an animal under any circumstances, so in a way, we are now stuck with him, despite the added worries! LOL! We love him, but had I known, perhaps I’d have thought differently, too. So good for you for asking the questions in the first place! Lizards and aquatic turtles need attention, too! πŸ™‚

      1. I know not all tortoises have the same requirements. Correct me if I’m wrong but tortoises like Russian tortoises don’t get near as big? But they still require a lot of room I’m just not prepared to give them. And you’re absolutely right! Lizards and aquatic turtles need attention and I’m here to give it to them!! πŸ™‚πŸ™‚

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