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
I'm interested in buying a Sulcata tortoise over 6 months old.  Beth H.

   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

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

Report Broken Video
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.
Lastest Animal Stories on Sulcata Tortoise

Beth H. - 2017-02-17
I'm interested in buying a Sulcata tortoise over 6 months old.

  • Gail M Wagner - 2017-11-07
    Are you still looking for an African spurred? I work at a wildlife park in Homosassa Florida and I work with turtles and tortoises. I recently came in contact with someone trying to find a home for their African spurred, I know it is over 6 months and I do not believe it is a large yet.. I am waiting for more information on it but want to make sure it goes to a home where they are aware of the species and they will keep good care. I would keep it but I don't have that kind of room and already have a house full of tortoises! Lol
RoseMary - 2015-08-07
We have an African Spur Turtle. Rocky is now 16 years old, and that is how long we have had him. He has always been very passive and non-behavioral, however, this past year he has been a pest, he paces around our back door, and will scratch up against it repeatedly, literally for hours, he rams my large flower pots and will push them , and has broken a few forcing himself behind these very heavy large pots that are against a wall. He rams our AC Unit and trys pushing it, we had to have it repaired due to this. WHY????? Is he possibly hungry?? Is he in heat??? He weighs 100 lbs. He is not aggressive with people, never has been, just these behaviors that surfaced this year. Can anyone offer me some advice??? We have had him so long, and wish to keep him, but need this to stop it is disruptive and destructive. Has anyone else experienced this??? He is only going to get bigger and stronger. We have a very large yard, space is definitely not an issue

  • Clarice Brough - 2015-08-08
    Sulcatas are very strong. They like to move around, they like to burrow, and they are also climbers. It sounds like your tortoise is simply acting like it should. I suggest you look at the enviroment and try to come up with ways you can make it more condusive to its natural inclinations. You want to keep it secure, but also provide it with some interesting things in its habitat. Some suggestions are to provide some areas with sturdy, low-growing plants that it can crowd into, as well as some other edible plants for it to forage on. Also vary the area by adding some large pieces of wood and some large smooth rocks for it too move around, and 'ram' when it feels the need.
  • beth daniel - 2016-09-16
    i have the same situation going on especially in the warmer months. I have a 10 or 11 year old African I sulcata. Your name is spike. She knocks on the door to try to break in cuz she just wants to have attention. She also wants to eat more cuz they're bottomless pits, lol.
    There such social animals and yours is this doing with the all do when he wants some attention or food. If you're tortoise does not have a yard with that least 2000 square feet of grass to mow down all day, this house is a problem with her environment. They must have a ton of yard to Motown grass and between the other supplements or food you give them. I feed mine about to head of color greens or red leaf lettuce a day sometimes I also give her a big of frozen cauliflower or broccoli a long with the lettuce and the yard to eat. Reflect from my pen or 11 year olds diet and you can go from there. I've had her for 7 years so I got this down. I hope that helps.
  • Dave - 2016-12-13
    Get him girlfriend
Nicole Aquaire Rigaud - 2016-11-04
Hello.. I have 2 large male Salcata African Tortoises. I have to separate them because they are 2 males and they fight. They are very healthy, beautiful and eat well. I would like to exchange one of the male for a female same size.  954 394 4121, Nicole.

Wendy - 2016-10-10
I have a 6 yr old African spurred tortoise. He eats alfalfa hay, spring greens, green bell peppers, endive, and a mixture of other things like green apples, romaine, green leaf lettuce, watercress, etc. I noticed today his skin appeared yellowish green. I have not noticed this before and his diet is pretty cinsistent. He is active, has a deep underground burrow that he surfaces from 2-3 times a day now that it is cooling off here in Phoenix. What is causing the skin color? Too much hay?

Beth H. - 2017-02-17
I'm interested in buying a Sulcata tortoise over 6 months old.

  • Gail M Wagner - 2017-11-07
    Are you still looking for an African spurred? I work at a wildlife park in Homosassa Florida and I work with turtles and tortoises. I recently came in contact with someone trying to find a home for their African spurred, I know it is over 6 months and I do not believe it is a large yet.. I am waiting for more information on it but want to make sure it goes to a home where they are aware of the species and they will keep good care. I would keep it but I don't have that kind of room and already have a house full of tortoises! Lol
Nicole Aquaire Rigaud - 2016-11-04
Hello.. I have 2 large male Salcata African Tortoises. I have to separate them because they are 2 males and they fight. They are very healthy, beautiful and eat well. I would like to exchange one of the male for a female same size.  954 394 4121, Nicole.

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
  • Johnny - 2015-07-29
    I would love to come and take this lovely creature from your home to my home where I have another spur thigh
  • ana\'ly - 2015-08-04
    I live in Riverside and will take it! my names annie and I live on an acre of land in the Jurupa Valley/ Indian Hills part of riverside! I love tortoises and we live on a big beautiful property I will GLADLY take it!
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