Animal Tales | All about sulcata tortoises

September 3, 2013 

Here at SC-CARES, the animals are fed the best nutritional meals we can get for them guided by our veterinarians, even the African Spurred Sulcata Tortoises.

These tortoises are native to the desert areas in Africa but years back someone thought it would be profitable to bring them to the States and breed them. They cannot swim like turtles most of us are accustom to seeing; however, they do enjoy soaking in a shallow tray of water, especially when it’s hot.

People are always amazed at the speed they can move, especially when it’s feeding time. To watch them from a slight distance they appear to be rocks moving along the ground, which according the veterinarin, is what they should feel like when picked up, little boulders. Of course after they’re about 8 to 10 years old they weigh between 30 and 40 pounds so picking them up is a bit of a task.

Sulcatas do best on a diet of dry grasses. Just like humans, turtles really are what they eat. If humans fill up on sugary junk foods we become overweight and sickly. The tortoises are no different and sadly it has become an issue with captive-bred sulcatas that have been fed fruits and vegetables and are now in poor health. Their bodies are not set up to metabolize sugary, rich foods and just like humans gain weight. The sulcatas have also developed shell deformities. Some end up with pyramided shells, which is not what it should be. The smoother the shell, most likely the healthier the tortoise.

A delightful fact is these tortoises can feel touch on their shell. For visitors at SC-CARES, “tortoise tickling” is one of the more popular parts of the tour. One of our residents, a bull (male) named Sahara, is especially fond of having his bum tickled. So much so that he’ll do a little dance we call the “bum wiggle.” It’s amazing that as thick and strong as their shells are that they can feel even the slightest touch. Their shells grow as they grow; they don’t shed them or remove themselves like crabs do.

Within the first 15 years, sulcatas continue to grow to upwards of 100 pounds and 36 inches in diameter and at this point they go where they want to go, when they choose to go. Unless you’re a weightlifter you won’t be picking them up to move them. These creatures have lifespans of 80 to 100 years, so most of the tortoises will outlive their caretakers.

SC-CARES is home to 16 sulcatas ranging from a 5-year-old named Zelda up to our eldest tortoise, Speedy, 16. All of these reptiles have different personalities and people are amazed to watch for just a few minutes and see how differently they act. Some are bullies, while others are very shy. There are tortoises that serve as greeters when you step into visit their habitat and a couple who think you’re a target for them to ram! People more often just don’t understand that just like all other animals, these tortoises are sentient beings. They have likes and dislikes, personalities and they all want to be fed and cared for.

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