Sulcata Tortoises

Close up of African spurred tortoise, Geochelone sulcata.
Sulcata tortoise close up outside in fenced enclosure. Nancy Nehring/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Sulcata tortoises are big pet tortoises and really do not make ideal pets due to their lengthy lifespan. But if you find yourself with one as a pet, they do have very specific requirements to keep them healthy and happy and you'll find that they make very fun companions.

Names: Geochelone sulcata, sulcata tortoise, African spurred tortoise

Life Span: Sulcata tortoises can live 80-100 years, perhaps longer.

Size: Sulcata tortoises are very large, reaching an adult length of 24-30 inches and weighing in at 80-110 pounds. 

Feeding Sulcata Tortoises

Sulcata tortoises are herbivorous, grazing tortoises that need a high fiber and low protein diet. This can be provided by feeding a variety of grasses and hays (comprising at least 75% of their diet) along with some edible weeds and flowers (dandelions, clover, endive, edible flowers, weeds, cactus pads). Small amounts of other leafy green vegetables are okay, but you should avoid foods high in oxalates (i.e. spinach, mustard and beet greens, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower) since these actually bind calcium in the body that your tortoise needs. Veggies should also be supplemented with a calcium and vitamin D3 powder regularly. Do not feed fruits, animal protein, or pelleted tortoise foods from the pet store..

Housing Sulcata Tortoises Outdoors

These large turtles need a sturdy fence and since they burrow quite well, the fence should be extended underground.

Shelter in the form of a doghouse or small shed will provide protection from the elements. Building a heated shed will provide a suitable shelter for colder weather but sulcata tortoises cannot survive cold winters outdoors. Daytime temperatures can be up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) but a heated shelter might be needed if the night time temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).

A shallow pan of water should be provided at all times and a muddy wallow may be used as well to soak and defecate in.

Housing Sulcata Tortoises Indoors

With the size of these turtles, housing adults indoors gets a bit impractical. An outdoor heated shed or greenhouse where they can live when it is cooler is sometimes a better option than keeping them in your house. If you still choose to house a full grown sulcata indoors you will need a room dedicated to them. 

Temperatures in the entire room, shed, or greenhouse should be maintained at 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (27-32 degrees Celsius) during the day and can drop as low as 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) at night. Be sure not to let the enclosure get too cold or you will allow your tortoise to be susceptible to more illnesses and they may stop eating. A basking spot should be provided and reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). A UVA/UVB light is also necessary when housed indoors since your sulcata tortoise is not getting regular, unfiltered sunlight. The invisible rays will help your tortoise grow strong bones, avoid metabolic bone disease, and stay healthy. Be sure to choose a light that emits rays far enough to reach your tortoise.

Read the box on the light bulb to choose the right like for the space your tortoise lives in.

A pan of water should also be provided at all times.

Sulcata Tortoise Behavior

Sulcata tortoises are quiet like all other tortoises but they are big and slow. They can easily get stuck in spaces that are too small for them (under tables, etc.), flip themselves over and are unable to right themselves, defecate large and smelly amounts of fecal matter, eat a lot, and need hot temperatures to stay healthy and active. Many people cannot meet the demands of a full grown sulcata for 100 years and end up trying to re-home them once they reach adulthood.


Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT