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African Spur-thighed Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata

sulcata African Spur-thighed Tortise, Geochelone sulcataIntroduction Sulcata tortoises are native to northern parts of Africa, ranging from the Sahara down through the arid countries, including Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, and Ethiopia. Captive bred and imported Sulcatas are both readily available. The sulcata is a large African mainland tortoise, with animals easily reaching 24-30 inches and weighting between 80-110 pounds. Sulcatas come from some of the hottest, driest areas in Africa. Some regions may not get rain for years. To make the most of available moisture, their skin is resistant to fluid loss but, when exposed to moisture, may become highly permeable. They will also dig large burrows in the ground to get to areas with higher moisture levels; in the wild, they may spend the hottest part of the day in these micro habitats

Acclimation and Quarantine Quarantine or acclimation enclosures do not need to be elaborate, instead they should be sterile and easy to clean. Plastic storage bins are often used for such enclosures as they are easy to clean, come in a variety of sizes, and most provide the security needed for a freshly acquired sulcata. Paper towels, newspapers, or other easily cleaned materials may be used as the substrate. A hide box should be provided for additional security. A shallow ceramic water dish should be used as the water bowl. Painting trays also work well as water dishes as they are sloped and will allow the tortoise to easily get out. This setup should be used until the tortoise is feeding regularly and appears to be in good health.

Housing Given the tremendous amount of room these tortoises need to roam, maintaining them inside year round is not easy. Temporary indoor housing for hatchlings, sick individuals or during inclement weather, can be set up. Such indoor housing must include temperature gradients, and a den box in which to burrow. Sulcatas can be housed outdoors only if they are provided dry, heated housing into which they will retire at night and during inclement weather. In sufficiently dry areas that are protected from predators and humans, sulcatas may be kept outdoors at night as well, with living in-ground trees and shrubs providing the shelter over their burrows. We recommend making sure that fencing surrounding the compound be opaque, if it is transparent, the Sulcata may try to plow through or burrow under it. Dog houses make suitable houses for Sulcatas. Raise it off the ground and supply heat during colder weather. A wide ramp must be constructed for them to move easily in and out. Make a curtain to cover the opening; a couple of layers of plastic drop cloth, cut into 2-3 inch wide strips, will create a curtain that can easily be pushed through but will keep out drafts; it will also help insulate the house by reducing heat loss. During the winter months, insulating layers of plastic, sod or wood can be used to cover the top and sides of the house. Red lights or ceramic heating elements, suspended from the ceiling of the house and safely out of reach of the tortoise, may be used during cool weather. A pig blanket (farrowing pad) will provide additional heat. Animals such as raccoons, opossums, cats and dogs can cause serious harm and death to tortoises. Be sure to keep your sulcata in a secure yard, with a secure enclosure to keep other animals out. Also beware of nosy people. All of our out door enclosures are in a yard with privacy fence as well as being guarded by dogs.

Lighting and Heating Provide a basking spot for them that is between 95-105 degrees F, as they need to get their bodies around 95 degrees to digest their food. Sulcatas also need an area to cool down when they get too warm. The opposite end of the tank should be 75-85 degrees. Night time temps should not be allowed to drop below 65 degrees. Incandescent lights may be used as a heat source. They are available in a wide selection of wattages, so the right level of heat for the basking spot can usually be found and then controlled with a thermostat as required. One may also choose to utilize ceramic heat emitters for larger enclosures. They can be used at night without emitting light that would otherwise disrupt the tortoise's photo period. Sulcatas need UVB exposure from a quality light. Spur-thighs synthesize vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB. Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium to be metabolized. Animals that are not exposed to UVB can develop Metabolic Bone Disease. If MBD isn't treated in a timely fashion, skeletal deformities, kidney failure, seizures, and eventually death will occur.

Feeding Sulcatas are herbivorous and do not require any type of animal protein in their diet. Sulcatas should receive a diet of calcium rich greens, fruits, and vegetables. The diet should be made up of 70-80% dark, leafy, calcium rich greens such as: grass, alfalfa hay, collard greens, mustard greens, endive, watercress, and dandelion greens. If they can be obtained, mulberry and hibiscus leaves should be included as often as possible. Alfalfa hay is a good source of fiber, and a practical alternative to grass for indoor kept sulcatas. Live grass (grazing) or fresh cuttings can be the bulk of your Sulcata's diet. 20-30% of the diet should consist of grated vegetables such as: carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, zucchini, thawed frozen mixed vegetables, and spineless prickly pear cactus pads. The last 10-20% may be fruits and flowers such as: strawberries, raspberries, mango, papaya, kiwi, melon and apple (no seeds). Avoid iceberg lettuce entirely, it has no nutritional value. Spinach should be either fed in small amounts or avoided entirely because it contains oxalic acid, which binds calcium in the intestinal tract, making it unavailable.

Avoid or feed sparingly the following: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, escarole and cauliflower; these vegetables contain iodine binders that can cause thyroid problems. As much as they love bananas, they should only be offered as a treat because they have the incorrect calcium to phosphorus ratio.

Make sure to cut and grate all food into bite size pieces for babies.

Be sure to provide sulcatas with the proper calcium supplementation. Your tortoise should receive a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1 in their diet. You may sprinkle calcium over the sulcata's veggies three times a week for juveniles (be sure to feed them daily) and once or twice a week for adults (you can feed them every other day, or offer smaller quantities daily).

Water Spur-Thighs like to soak and should be provided with a clean source of water at all times. A shallow water tray used in planters is good to use for juveniles as they are sturdy and cannot be easily tipped over. However for smaller specimens, a dish of this type can be a death trap as they cannot climb over the edge to get out. Painting trays work very well for animals hatchlings to small adults. They are sloped upward, allowing even the smallest to climb up and out of the water. For an adult there are several choices. A cement mixing tub or a kiddy pool can be used. However, they are taller than the animal can get into, so you will need to cut the wall in about half. If you have experience casting and working with concrete, and your enclosure is outside, you may choose this route to construct a water feature.