Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Species of the Day: African Sulcata or Spur-Thighed Tortoise
Scientific Name: Geochelone (Centrochelys) sulcata
Adult Size: Over 200 lbs
Range: Found within the Sahel region, which is geographical band in Africa, south of the Saharan desert stretching from Mauritania and Northern Senegal Eastward to Northern Ethiopia.
Habitat: Semi-desert conditions, grassland and woody scrub land
The African Sulcata is a sandy beige in color throughout most of their body, with some developing a deeper honey color as they age. Large scales on their front legs help them to dig and prevent them from being pulled backwards from their burrows, which is nearly impossible. The spurs on their rear thighs has led to them being commonly called "spur-thighed" tortoise.
They inhabit hot, dry climates in Africa, but can handle variable amounts of humidity in captivity. All tortoises do best in large, outdoor enclosures where they can get as much natural sunlight as they need to grow properly and be healthy. They do not hibernate, but do go through a winter slow-down period during the cooler months and shorter day-lengths. As adults they can safely handle temperatures as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit as night as long as temperatures are in the 70's during the day. Summer highs of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit can be tolerated as long as cooler areas are provided for them to regulate their body temperatures. Dampness is not a problem in hot weather (you'd be hard-pressed to find a tortoise that doesn't enjoy a good muddy water-hole on a hot day), but in cooler weather the tortoises must be kept dry. As babies, they are much less tolerant of extremes, spending much time in washes and and underground burrows.
This tortoise is a natural grazer, and will wander about nibbling on grass the majority of its life, although succulents like cactus leaves and fruit and flower are greatly relished by the tortoises. In captivity sulcata tortoises will graze on grasses and leafy weeds (dandelions are a favorite). As babies the focus should be on them a wide mix of leafy greens, since they have a tougher time eating the tougher grasses. Fruit should only be given occasionally.
As pets they are interactive and curious tortoises. They can be aggressive toward each other, particularly when two males of equal size are housed together. Over time, and with careful supervision, they usually can sort out a hierarchy for themselves. Sulcatas are generally not aggressive towards people but sometimes you come across males that have a penchant for head-butting, which can be cute when they're little, but when they quickly grow into 200 pound monsters it can become a problem. They can be very damaging to their environment as they can be prolific diggers and burrowers if no shelter is provided for them. As said before these tortoises can be quite large and need lots of space for them to be happy. Most sulcatas will come eagerly up to their owners looking for food, and some even follow them around, making the sulcata tortoise a most personable pet and joy to keep if you have the space and the time to dedicate to them.