Sulcata Tortoise Habitat: How To Setup Ideal Habitats For Sulcata Tortoises

Sulcata tortoises, both male and female can grow to a large size, and it is best to keep them in an outdoor enclosure. When setting up a sulcata tortoise habitat, you will need to create a habitat that mimics their natural environment to keep them healthy and happy. What then does their natural habitat looks like?

African sulcata tortoise, also called African spurred tortoises, is one of the most popular tortoise species kept as a pet. Due to their popularity, they are considered the most produced tortoise species in the world. They are a hardy species with fascinating behaviors that can adapt to various climates and habitats in captivity.

Sulcata tortoises can grow to a large size, and you may be wondering what the best housing setup for your tortoise is. The best thing is that you can house sulcatas both indoor and outdoor. However, when they reach adult size, you will need to provide a large enclosure where they can roam, graze, and dig.

In this article, we will help break down everything you need to know about setting up an ideal habitat for your sulcata tortoise.

Cute Reptiles as Pets
Cute Reptiles as Pets

Geographic Range Of Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcata tortoise is a popular tortoise pet known for its immense size, brown and tan shell, and large scales. You can easily spot them with their yellowish skin with tan to brown shells. Furthermore, they are called African spurred tortoises due to the presence of 2-3 spurs on their thighs.

They have oval shells with numerous well-defined grooves. Furthermore, sulcata have lighter scutes in the middle outlined by darker brown color.

In the wild, sulcata tortoises are natives to the deserts of Africa. They are commonly found in the northern parts of Africa in countries like Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mali up to the hot Massaua coast that borders the Red Sea.

Native Habitat Of Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcata tortoises are considered the largest African tortoises. Furthermore, they originate from the dry, arid part of Africa. You will find them roaming around in grassy and dry sub-Saharan African plains.

It is important to know about their native habitat before setting up a habitat for them in captivity.

Sulcata Tortoise Habitat
A captive sulcata tortoise in its outdoor pen

Where Sulcata Tortoise Live

Sulcata tortoise originates from arid, sparse areas of sub-Saharan Africa. This shows you will find them in the hottest, driest region of Africa in the wild. When setting up a habitat for them in captivity, you will need to create an enclosure that can mimic their natural environment.

However, they can also survive lower temperatures but need a warm and dry environment to stay healthy and happy.

How Sulcata Tortoise Live There

Sulcata tortoise originates from Africa’s dry and arid part, where some parts may not get rain for years. However, they have skin that is resistant to fluid loss to help make most of the available moisture. Furthermore, their skin becomes highly permeable when they come in contact with water.

Sulcatas also burrow in the ground to reach areas with high moisture levels. They do this to escape from the heat and also to absorb water. Furthermore, sulcatas are known to dig tunnel systems that can reach 10 feet or more underground.

Generally, sulcata tortoises don’t usually get sick in the wild because they are living under optimal conditions. However, a sick sulcata tortoise can have a hard time surviving in the wild. This is because they won’t have the energy to dig or move around.

Another thing is that they will also be vulnerable to predators that can prey on them. 

How sulcata tortoises live in the wild [source: USGS]

How To Set-up Ideal Habitats For A Sulcata Tortoise In Captivity

Sulcata are curious and docile reptiles, making them a suitable pet even for family children. Furthermore, it is quite easy to set up an ideal habitat for a sulcata tortoise, even with their special care.

Sulcata tortoises, both male and female can grow to a large size, and it is best to keep them in an outdoor enclosure. When setting up a sulcata tortoise habitat, you will need to create a habitat that mimics their natural environment to keep them healthy and happy.

Some of the things needed to set up a sulcata tortoise habitat in captivity are stated below.

Caging For Sulcata Tortoise

When keeping a sulcata tortoise as a pet, you need to set up an environment that mimics the desert environment. Furthermore, it is best to keep sulcata tortoises in an outdoor area as they can grow to a large size.

Sulcata tortoises are very active and usually patrol the perimeter of their enclosures. You will need to build a sturdy wall about 24 inches in height and around 12-24 inches below the ground around their enclosure. This will help prevent your tortoise from escaping.

You can use concrete masonry blocks and well-built wood walls as a barrier to their enclosure. You should avoid using see-through fences and walls because your tortoises will try to escape through or over the walls.

Sulcata tortoises also need a hide box for a cool retreat during the summer months. This helps to reduce the burrowing activities of sulcata tortoises.

For An Adult Tortoise

It is recommended to house sulcata tortoises in an outdoor cage with lots of space to graze and a suitable substrate for their natural burrowing activity. However, when keeping them outdoors, you will need a well-insulated hiding box where they can avoid a predator and cool down during hot periods.

You need to house adult sulcata tortoises in at least 100 square feet cage with walls that are about 2 feet tall and one foot deep. Apart from burrowing, the sulcata tortoise loves climbing, and you need to provide rocks, logs, and other accessories that they can climb in their enclosure.

For A Young Tortoise

It is best to raise young sulcata tortoises indoors. However, you can also house them outdoors if the temperature is in the correct range. It is recommended to raise baby sulcata tortoises indoors for the first few years before transferring them outdoors.

You can house baby sulcata tortoises in a shallow terrarium or plastic tub. However, you need to focus on the cage’s lighting, cage furniture, substrate, and temperature. You will also need to provide them with a humid hide area, as this helps keep them hydrated and make their shells grow smoothly.

Substrate For Sulcata Tortoise

The best substrate for hatchling and juvenile sulcata tortoise
The best substrate for hatchling and juvenile sulcata tortoise

You can use a mixture of sand and earth as a substrate when housing baby sulcata tortoises indoors. However, you can also use a mix of cypress mulch, orchid bark, and aspen mulch. Furthermore, you can also use substrates like coconut bedding or peat moss for their enclosure.

However, you will need to change their substrate weekly and wash their enclosure with soap and warm water around once a month. You don’t need to add substrate for sulcata outdoor tortoise enclosure if the soil is natural and not affected by fertilizer.

You can also place a few larger, flat rocks in their enclosure to file the tortoise’s nails.

Lighting and Temperature For Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcata tortoises are cold-blooded animals and need the environment’s temperature to control their body. When housing them indoors, you will provide them with a UVB light to process calcium and to produce vitamin D3.

However, they can get the needed UVB light from direct sunlight when housing them outdoors. When housing them outdoors, sulcata tortoises can tolerate a wide temperature range. They can stay at a high temperature if you can provide a shaded area where they can escape from the sun.

They can also stay in a cold temperature that is as low as 45oF without any problems. However, you will need to provide a heated hide box about 55-60oF if the nighttime temperature drops below 50oF. If there is no heated hide box, then you will need to bring them inside.

When housing sulcata tortoises indoors, you will need to ensure the temperature is between 68-75oF. You will also need to provide a basking area that is around 100oF for your tortoise. You will need to provide them with a UVB light to process calcium present in their diets.

You will need to keep sulcata tortoise UVB light on for 12-14 hours a day and then turn it off at night.

an adult sulcata tortoise exploring its environment
The best home for an adult sulcata tortoise is an outdoor enclosure with enough space to roam

Humidity For Sulcata Tortoise

Although sulcata tortoise originates from hot and dry areas, you will need to provide them with clean water daily. You can place a large shallow bowl of water in outdoor enclosures that they can easily climb into. Tortoise cannot swim, and you should ensure the bowl is not deep.

However, you will need to change the water daily because sulcata tortoise drinks and defecates at the same time. Furthermore, you will need to soak baby sulcata tortoises in a shallow bowl for about 15 minutes to keep them hydrated.

Humidity is important for most reptile species to help keep them hydrated and maintain healthy skin. You will need to provide a humidity that is between 40%-60%, while hatchling will need 60% humidity. You can use a hygrometer to monitor the humidity of your sulcata tortoise’s enclosure. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an ideal sulcata tortoise diet?

Sulcata tortoises are herbivorous creatures, and they need a plant-based diet. Furthermore, they are voracious grazers, and the bulk of their food should be grasses, grass hay, clover, timothy hay, etc. You will also need to feed them with fruits and foods rich in protein occasionally.

You will also need to supplement sulcata tortoise foods with calcium and multivitamin powder for their optimal growth.

What is a sulcata tortoise’s lifespan?

Keeping sulcata tortoises as a pet is a long-term commitment. They are a very hardy species and can thrive very well in a wide range of environmental conditions. Furthermore, they can live for around 80-100 years in captivity under optimal care.

Many even believe that sulcata tortoises can outlive their owner if they are raised in a proper habitat with suitable humidity, substrate, temperature, UV lighting, and quality food.

What is the growth rate of sulcata tortoises?

Sulcata has a more diverse growth rate when compared to other tortoise species. You can find a 10-inch tortoise that can be three years old or ten years old. The growth rate of sulcata tortoise usually depends on a wide range of factors like sufficient diet, nutrient supply, habitat, and environmental conditions.

Wrapping Up

Sulcata tortoises are fascinating creatures that make a suitable pet for even beginner hobbyists if you can research before adopting them. Although they have special care, it is quite easy to set up an ideal habitat for them. They are a large tortoise species and require a lot of space for grazing.

This means you will need to build a large outdoor enclosure with lots of hiding spots and accessories that they can climb.

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