African Spurred Tortoise

Sulcata Tortoise, Spurred Tortoise, Grooved Tortoise

Family: Testudinidae Picture of an African Spurred Tortoise or Sulcata Tortoise, Geochelone sulcataGeochelone sulcataPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Russ Gurley
Latest Reader Comment - See More
we live in Arizona which is a great climate for Sulcatas. Currently we house two very large Sulcatas outside in a specially built enclosure. We used railroad ties... (more)  Wendy

   Not only is the African Spurred Tortoise the largest tortoise on the African mainland, it is the third largest tortoise on the planet!

   These amazing tortoises, the African Spurred Tortoises (also called the Sulcata Tortoise or Spurred Tortoise) are large, impressive animals. The only larger species of tortoise are the giant tortoises from the Galapagos and Aldabras.

   The African Spurred Tortoises are outgoing, very tame, and are among the most hardy of the pet tortoises. Though this may sound like a desirable pet, you must keep in mind that not only do they get large, but they have large care requirements. They grow relatively quickly, are very powerful, and require a lot of food, a varied diet, and a lot of space. You must consider these needs before acquiring this wonderful tortoise for a pet. They do get much larger than most owners can deal with.

For more Information see:
Selecting and Caring for Your Turtle or Tortoise

Geographic Distribution
Geochelone sulcata
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  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Genus: Geochelone
  • Species: sulcata
The African Spurred Tortoise

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Feeding the African Spurred Tortoise

Check out how big this Sulcata Tortoise is! It is amazing how gigantic they can get!

Distribution:    African Spurred Tortoises, also called the Sulcata Tortoises, are found in hot, dry scrubland areas in a large swath across North-Central Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. They live in the deep burrows in which they seek refuge from the heat. They browse grass and plant growth. Unfortunately, these tortoises are becoming very scarce in nature.

Status   This tortoise is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: VU - Vulnerable and and listed on CITES: Appendix II.

Description:    African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises grow quite large, with many adult females reaching 20" (50 cm) and 30" (76 cm) for males. Females typically reach weights of 65 to 75 pounds and large males can grow to 125 to 150 pounds.
   True to its name, the African Spurred Tortoise has spurs on its hind legs, though the purpose of these spurs is not known. It has a carapace (upper shell) that is broad and oval shaped. It is more flattened on the top with sides descending quickly, turning into serrations that turn upward on the edge. The plastron (bottom shell) is an off white color. Their head is brown with the overall body color varying from a yellowish brown to golden. The skin is very thick and there are large scales on the front legs that overlap.    Males are difficult to distinguish from females though they do get much larger, their tails are slightly longer and thicker, and they have a more concave plastron. It is almost impossible to sex these tortoises when they are young, smaller than about 15" (38 cm).

Juvenile African Spurred Tortoises
Picture of juvenile African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises

Care and Feeding:    African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises should be fed a diet that is very high in fiber. They will feed eagerly on a mixed salad of greens and vegetables each day, but you should also try to offer as much grass, hay, dandelions, leaves, and Opuntia cactus pads as possible. A sprinkle of calcium should be offered on the salad every few times.
   For optimal health, they should be fed fruits only sparingly or not at all. Offer some melon, apple, and other fruits during the hot summers, but only once every ten days to two weeks. These Tortoises should not be fed any dog food or cat food and commercial foods only very seldom as they are prone to renal problems and medical issues related to high protein diets.
   Water should be offered in a flat saucer. This can be a flat dish or a plastic saucer such as the type that is normally placed under a plant pot. These can be easily cleaned and sterilized once a week or as needed. For small tortoises, once a week simply remove it from the enclosure and soak it in shallow water. This will give the small tortoise some water to drink and will let it rehydrate.

   African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises require warm, dry environments and so if you live in a humid area, be very careful about keeping these tortoises outdoors. Living on the damp ground will cause serious medical problems with these tortoises. A pair of adults will require a large backyard and outbuilding that is at least 12' wide x 24' long.
   The substrate can be a mixture of 3/4 sand and 1/4 peat moss. A layer of grass hay can be added at one end to provide some shelter. The substrate should be kept dry as African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises are sensitive to damp conditions.
   Though outgoing and very tame, you should provide a variety of shelters to give these tortoises a feeling of security. Add large pieces of curved cork bark, large banana leaves, piles of straw or hay, etc. for the tortoises to use as shelter. The shelter should be located at the cooler end of the enclosure and not directly under the heat-emitting lamps.
   Heat should be provided using a heat-emitting bulb in a lamp from overhead. Ideally, this heat lamp should hang just about 12" above the substrate. The heat-emitting bulb should be provide a basking spot of 90{deg} to 95{deg} F (32{deg} to 35{deg} C) at one end of the enclosure. This will provide a hot end for the tortoise to enjoy.
   Lighting can be provided with a shop light fixture overhead that is fitted with one or two UV-emitting bulbs. These can be found at your pet store or on-line from a variety of sources. UVB-heat bulbs® from T-Rex products and Reptisun® bulbs from Zoomed will also provide UV radiation to the enclosure. This UVB is necessary for Vitamin D3 production (needed for calcium absorption, proper muscle functioning, etc.).
   The most common form of indoor accommodation for a small or medium sized African Spurred Tortoise or Sulcata Tortoise is a large terrarium. You can also use plastic tubs, wooden cages, and other enclosures, but glass terrariums are easy to find at the local pet store and they come in a variety of sizes. Of course, as the tortoise grows, it will need larger and larger enclosures.
   All tortoises benefit from being kept outdoors for all or part of their lives. They receive doses of UVB radiation, environmental heat, and of course enjoy a connection to the grass, plants, and soil found in outdoor pens. Outdoor enclosures should offer shelter from heat, a secure place to rest, and a water source. Food offered to these tortoises can be supplemented by plantings of some of their favorite grasses, fruits, and vegetables within the enclosure. Also be very diligent to make sure that outdoor enclosures are escape-proof and predator-proof.

Handling:    African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises are outgoing and very tame. A large animal, they are also very strong . They can dig deep burrows, push over ornaments in the yard, and cause other mischief. So be sure to carefully "baby proof" the tortoise's habitat. You want to be sure it cannot flip over on its back anytime you are away as this can prove fatal for the tortoise.
   Though these tortoises are quite tame, most tortoises probably do not enjoy being handled. The African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises usually won't retreat into their shells and will usually look around to see what is going on.
   They can be hand-fed, and red strawberries, pieces of melon, and hibiscus flowers are some of their favorite treats. Specimens that have been raised from small, captive-hatched babies and which are open to daily interaction over many years become the most tame and easily handled.

Breeding:    An established pair of African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises can be very prolific and in warm areas can produce year-round. A light winter cooling, followed by hot days triggers breeding in these tortoises. A healthy, active pair can produce two to four clutches of 10 to 30 eggs each season, depending on the size of the female.
   It is felt by most keepers that the addition of protein and calcium to female tortoises' diets is essential in having them produce clutches of healthy, viable eggs. Eggs hatch in as many as 90 days when incubated in the 82{deg} to 86{deg} F range of temperatures.

Ailments / Health Problems:    African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises are found in hot, dry habitat. Thus, their captive enclosures should reflect this need. When kept cool or damp for an extended period of time, you can expect this tortoise to begin showing respiratory problems. The early signs are puffy eyes, runny noses, etc. You should strive to maintain an enclosure that is hot and dry to avoid these health issues.
   These tortoises are really only available as captive-hatched babies these days, so you should not be concerned about internal parasites unless a baby has been kept in the enclosure with wild-caught adults or wild-caught tortoises of another species.
   Long-term lack of appetite, runny or smelly stools, and blood in the feces are signs of a problem and you should visit a qualified veterinarian if any of these signs are noticed.

Availability:    African Spurred Tortoises or Sulcata Tortoises are readily available from better reptile stores, on-line, or at reptile shows and expos.
   Try to purchase your tortoise from a breeder or someone with intimate knowledge of tortoises. They will help you set up the proper enclosure and will give you helpful hints so you are successful. Also, if you don't have to ship your tortoise, that is always best. A beginning keeper should purchase a tortoise that is at least three months old to make sure it is past the delicate stage.

   PLEASE do not ever release an African Spurred Tortoise or Sulcata Tortoise, or any reptile pet into the wild. There are adoption organizations that will take your unwanted pet, no questions asked, and find the proper captive environment for it. ( for details)

Author: Russ Gurley
Additional Information: Clarice Brough, CRS
Edited by Animal-World.
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Lastest Animal Stories on Sulcata Tortoise

Wendy - 2007-11-12
we live in Arizona which is a great climate for Sulcatas. Currently we house two very large Sulcatas outside in a specially built enclosure. We used railroad ties stacked 4 high and they make a very sturdy and inexpensive wall. We paid about $8.00 each for the railroad ties and we found that they really didn't need to be secured in any way. The size and weight alone make them stack nicely. Our torts are about 50 lbs each so we really needed the enclosure to be strong. We use a double dog house with heat lamps for night time. Its easy to clean out and we replace the dirt inside when it gets soiled or wet. We made an eating platform out of 6-12" flat concrete pavers. It keeps the food off the dirt and we are able to hose it off when it gets dirty. I bought the biggest clay drainage dish I could find at a plant nursery. It's about 24" across. It makes a great water dish. It's shallow but heavy and they love to sit in it. I dug a shallow hole about 3 feet across that on occasion I fill with water and they love to wallow in it and flip mud on their backs. hope this is helpful information!

  • Anonymous - 2014-03-04
    Can you send me a picture please? Thanks
  • Rosalia Solis - 2014-08-27
    would you please send me a picture?
  • Nicolle - 2014-10-01
    I just gained a Sulcata and he is about 12 lbs. I would also love to see some pics or ask mkore questions. I live in Mesa and we are trying to figure out how to build him (Mikey) something for the upcoming winter months. Nicolle
  • Sean - 2014-10-11
    I have a 150 lb male and he free roams on an acre of walled property with all of the proper food and shelter. I am looking for someone to take him. I would like what I paid for him only as I rescued him from a breeder who was ill and could no longer. Please contact me if you are interested or know of anyone who might be. He is in perfect health and very friendly.
  • Cowboy_Ken - 2014-11-17
    For current, proper, up to date information on all your tortoise husbandry needs, for all specie of turtles and tortoises, I highly recommend the group the this is an international forum of experts and hobbiests getting together to all openly share their experiences with this wonderful animal. You will find very helpful regular folks wanting simply to help you help your tortoise to have a long healthy, happy life. Join the conversation, share your exsperiances, and see that you are not alone. My user name is Cowboy_Ken. Stop in and say hi.
  • Clarice Brough - 2014-11-17
    This is great resource and that's another great resource too. Never hurts to have lots of help:)
Mike Hervey - 2014-11-04
A great deal has been learned in the few years about raising and keeping Sulcata ( I have one, as well as other species). Most specifically, that babies are born and thrive in the rainy season in Africa. Though it seems it would be appropriate to keep them in a dry environment this has been shown to lead to health problems in young ones. They need moisture / humidity for proper shell development. The most obvious sign of too dry an environment is a pyramiding shell. This is raised shutes on the caprice ( top shell). The info in the above article is outdated. A humid environment IS NOT a problem - but a benefit for these tortoises. Closed chambers with 80% humidity is ideal. The desiccating effects of torts raised under heat lamps in open tables it damaging. Mike

Christiana Moore - 2014-09-30
Hi my name is Christiana I found a baby tortoise in the backyard of my job it's probably no bigger than 3inches. I've kept it for 2 days now but I'm scared that I may kill it not having the proper care. I want to keep it so bad. I have it in one of those big plastic rectangle bowl tops with a medium rock and a few patches of lettuce on the side. I let it swim and soak in my bathtub (of course deeply sanitizing afterwards) but I really want to keep it please help.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-10-02
    Wow that's exciting Christiana, what a wonderful pet. Besides all the care information on this page up above, you can also check out the article on Selecting & Caring for Your Turtle or Tortoise. Wishing you both the best!
Eva - 2014-09-21
Hi I'm from Bakersfield California I have a 2in sulcata.had em for about a lil over Two weeks now my step sister found em and my brother bought em from her and he gave. the little onr to me I've done research pretty much everyday I've had turtles. in the past but this my first tortoise. I have a big back yard and I have a garden. with alotta things. the little one can eat. and I have an out door set up for em and I let em roam the front and back yard supervised of course but I wanna grow some good staple worthy. grasses...any I've got calcium powder.and I do soak em I need a name but don't know if the little one is a boy or. girl

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-09-21
    Sex is not easy to determine visually in a young tortoise, its usually at about usually 3-4 years of age and 10' to 14' in size before you can reliably sex them. Males develop convex or out-spreading anal scutes, while females are just the opposite with concave or in-spreading anal scutes. mMles also haveindented plastrons while there is no indentation on females.

    On diet, African Spurred Tortoises are from a dry arid region and feed on grasses and other plants. In captivity they require a very high-fiber, grass-based diet as the bulk of their food. Too much protein in the diet will cause abnormal growth rates, which can lead to other problems. Coastal hay is really good and helps with digestion, but be cautious with alfalfa hay products as they are too rich in protein for the bulk of their diet. They can also be feed weeds, a variety of grasses, and clover, as well as other greens and vegetables. For grasses, it really depends on where you live and what will grow in your area.
  • Eva - 2014-09-22
    I keep the little one in side at night and I have a heating. pad under the temparary 20 gallon tank I have for now but I need to know the correct wattage I need to have for the uvb bulbs.but like I've stated most of the day the baby is out in the yard .
Anonymous - 2011-09-16
We have an African Spurred Tortoise that is living in our back yard in Danbury CT. We just moved in and so did it (literally 2 days after we did). I am trying unsuccessfully to find this tortoise a home. We can't keep it as it is rather large and it can't stay outside because it is too cold. Is there anyone on here that would want to come get it? I have contacted numerous organizations but none will take it.

  • Matt - 2011-09-21
    I would be more than happy to take it. How much would it cost to ship to Florida?
  • Euni - 2011-09-25
    I'll take him off your hands. I have a few tortoises myself. Love reptiles. Where are you located?
  • Joe - 2011-10-02
    Not sure if you found anyone to take your tortoise
    if not I would like to come and get him. Please let me know via email
  • Susan zdilla - 2011-10-04
    Hello I was just wondering if you found the tortoise a home. I currently have a baby and am looking for an adult sulcata tortoise. Please email me anytime.
    susan zdilla
  • Brian - 2011-10-12
    The Pratt NatureCenter in new Milford, CT has an African Spurred Tortise and I'm sure they would be willing to take another. Their number is 860-355-3137
  • Hamilton Brower - 2011-10-12
    Wow. I am writing as of Oct 12, 2011...if you still are in possession of this tortoise, could you please contact me at 917-756-5185 in New Milford or contact Jess, Diane or Pat at the Pratt Nature Center in New Milford, CT at 860-355-3137. THANK YOU!
  • Marilyn - 2011-10-17
    I'm sure my Sulcata would love a friend. I have a huge yard and 3 tortoises. Weather is perfect down here in Miami too for them. If you still have not found it a home I'd be more than happy adopt :) Please contact me at 305-305-8388. Thanks
  • Gabriel Esparza - 2011-10-29
    I have a large backyard and have a 5 yr old spurred tortoise roaming in my yard. If you still looking for a good home, West Covina, California. Great weather all year around. Please contact me. Gabe 626-826-9299.
  • Kim V Smith - 2011-11-06
    I would like to have it I already have one and know how to take care of it.
  • vincent - 2011-11-10
    please contact me i am vincent
  • juan - 2012-02-09
    Do you still have that tortoise ???
  • Heather Horning - 2012-07-26
    I was given a large(nine year old African tortoise and was told it was a female. As a result I bought a male almost as big as 'she' was. It turns out that she attempts to mount the male tortoise, and today I saw clear signs in the genitalia that 'she' is a male. I need a large female tortoise, this time with expert testimony that it is in fact a female. it seems you have had many responses, so you may no longer have the tortoise. Please let me know.
  • Rob Altonea - 2012-08-14
    Hi, I'm very interested in picking up the Sulcatta Tortoise if you still have it , I have a large Sulcatta for 17 years and know how to care for them , I'm on Long Island and will make the Drive ... Please call Rob or Sharon @ 631 664-8496
Maxine lenett - 2011-10-10
I have an African spurred tortoise that is 5 to 6 yrs. Old. I live in the high desert in Calif. And it gets very cold here in fall and winter months. I don't want to keep him in an aquarium. I was told that he needs more freedom, room, and outside light. I love him so much but don't know that this year I can keep him warm and provided for like I want to. Any suggestions? Or does anyone have a better home to provide and would like to purchase him. Want ONLY
The best for him. Heartbroken. He loves his outside enclosure that works well but only for the summer months. Thank you!

  • Diana - 2011-10-11
    I'm responding to your tortoise dilema, my name is Diana and live in Riverside CA.and I have a 5 year old female named squirt who lives freely all year in our backyard but seems lonely so if you want a good home for your tortoise we have one here let me know
  • George - 2011-10-18
    I have a 2 1/2 acres with 2 African Spurred Tortoises and would be happy to give your guy a good home. I will pay you $40. My place is in La Quinta, Ca. I love my tortoises, they are the best pets ever.
  • Yolanda - 2011-10-23
    I have 2, African tortoises and live in WA state. It gets very cold here but there are other alternatives besides giving them away. I keep my tortoises indoors and let them roam around. I have selected a room of their own and that's where they do their feedings. When the colder months come around I turn on the heater for them. They are a part of my family and treat them as such. I will say, I keep the door closed when I feed them because that's normally when it's time to use the bathroom. I then go in and clean after them and let them continue roaming around the house. There is no sunshine over here in the winter months, so the outside is out of the question. But every chance I can, I release them on my backyard so they can enjoy the little bit of sun we occasionally do have.
  • Gabriel Esparza - 2011-10-29
    I live in West Covina, Ca. Large backyard and have a 5 year old Spurred tortoise. If you are still looking for a good home. Please contact me. Gabe
  • vincent - 2011-11-10
    Maxine i would be interested please email me vincent
  • Anonymous - 2012-01-16
    I have a 75 lb male and 40 lb female and live in NY. I use depends diapers for them, and size 3 pamper diapers for my smaller ones. They all run throughout to house, as long as they have a diaper on. Believe me, it works
  • Winston Ramirez - 2012-03-08
    how much would you like for your sulcata tortoise? I have 4 hectares of grassland (fenced) btw I live in the Philippines