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

 

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

    1. Debra Post author

      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˜‰

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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˜€

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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!

      Reply
  1. aFrankAngle

    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.

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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˜…

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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!

      Reply
  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?!

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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!

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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˜‰

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      Hi my dear! It’s hard for me to believe Sophia is turning 10! And we are currently up north with our new grandson! I will send details via email! πŸ˜‰

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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˜…

      Reply
  3. nrhatch

    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!

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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!!

      Reply
  4. lifeonthecutoff

    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?

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      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.

      Reply
  5. 2e0mca

    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!

    Reply

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