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.  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  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