African Spur Thigh (Sulcata) Tortoise

Common Name: African Spur Thigh, Sulcata Tortoise

Latin name: Geochelone sulcata

Native to: Southern Sahara desert region ranging from Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia

Size: The largest shell length ranges up to 36 inches and weighs up to 109 kg

Life span: If taken care of properly a Sulcata tortoise can live up to 70 years

General appearance: The African spur thigh tortoise is a uniform color of brown to golden yellow color. Growth rings on each scute appear on the carapace. There are also well-defined spurs on the rear legs, which gives it its name. The skin is thick which may serve to reduce fluid loss through transpiration.

Enclosure: Because of the size of the African spur thigh tortoise, you will need to build a pen.  In the UK they will need to be housed indoors for a large proportion of the year.  A shelter with a ramp should be provided for outdoor pens.  An average sized adult will need a six-foot by six-foot indoor grazing area and a six-foot by six-foot basking area.  If the tortoise does not get enough room to exercise the tortoise may lose muscle mass.  When housed outdoors, fencing should extend at least two feet underground because these tortoises like to burrow.

Temperature: An ambient temperature should be kept at 72° -85° F. A basking area should be kept on one side of the enclosure at a temperature of 85° – 89° F. At night, the temperature can drop down to 70° – 75° F. It is a good practice to let the tortoise soak at least twice a week.

Heat/Light: It is important that adequate lighting is provided. Lighting must provide UV-a and UV-b for proper skeletal and shell development. Incandescent lights may be used to provide basking spots. Ceramic emitters or under-the-tank heaters may also be used to heat the enclosure, however heated rocks are NOT recommended.

Substrate: Sulcata tortoises like to dig and burrow. It is important to give the tortoise something that they can burrow in. A mix of 50% sterile play sand and a 50% organic soil works well. Hay with newspaper can also be used. Other suitable substrates are alfalfa pellets, aspen particles, or Lizard Litter®. Some people also consider using Carefresh®. Pine, cedar, and oyster shells should be avoided.

Environment: African spur thigh tortoises come from a desert region therefore require a dry, arid enclosure. A hide box is often beneficial.

Diet: Sulcatas tortoises are grazers and need a high fibre and low protein diet. Mixed grasses, orchard hay, timothy hay, hibiscus leaves and flowers, clove, prickly pear pads ( if available), dandelion greens and flowers, Dutch clover, rose leaves and petals, sow thistle, romaine, and red leaf lettuce. Animal protein should be avoided. Fruits should be fed sparingly if at all.

Maintenance: The enclosure should be spot cleaned daily. A thorough cleaning should be performed on a regular basis. A 5% bleach solution is an excellent disinfectant. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the enclosure before replacing the substrate and placing the tortoise back in the enclosure. It is always recommended to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the tortoise or cleaning the cage or cage accessories.