Sulcata Tortoise

Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom:   Animalia
  • Phylum:     Chordata
  • Class:      Sauropsida
  • Order:       Testudines
  • Suborder:       Cryptodira
  • Family:    Testudinidae
  • Genus:     Geochelone

The African spurred tortoise Geochelone sulcata, known as African spur thigh tortoise, or sometimes as sulcata tortoise, is the world’s third largest variety of tortoises. It is also the largest variety of mainland tortoise, not seen on an island.



The adults are about 24’’ to 36” long and they weigh 100lb to 200lb (45kg to 91kg). During the initial years of their life, they develop from infant size of 2-3inches (15 – 25 cm) rapidly attaining (6-10”). The African spurred tortoise has a life span of 50 to 150 years and even much longer


The African spurred tortoise inhabits the Sahel and the Sahara Desert, and  partial dry grasslands, savannas and  the thorny shrub lands, seen all over Chad, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Sudan, Senegal and Nigeria. In order to get relief from the extreme heat during the peak hours of the day, in these dry regions, the tortoise digs burrows in the areas with moist soil and for shelter. These tortoises are characteristically calm and quiet by nature, and adapt well to homes as pets. Despite this, their keepers find it a challenging task to provide their exact needs in terms of temperature, diet and in handling their large size.

As a Pet

African Spurred Tortoise


It is better to keep the immature and young sulcatas indoors and have proper control over the light and heat. A 10 to 20 gallon size terrarium is enough for one or two hatchlings, until they grow to a length of 3”. After this, you should take them to accommodation that is more spacious. When they attain the size of a basketball, you can consider starting to house them outdoors in all climates provided you make them a shelter for the cold days and nights.


The ideal substrates for these tortoises are, Chipped aspen (Sani-Chips), newspapers, orchid bark and perhaps soil. Any of these prove ideal, as they keep the environment dust-free and is harmless if the tortoises ingest them. You can also tidy with ease. Synthetic items like a carpet can prove dangerous if your pets nibble on them; so avoid them.

Heating and Lighting

Maintain one end of the terrarium warm and the other cool by setting a temperature gradient. Keep the temperature about 90 degrees for the babies and young ones providing a daytime basking temperature. For the bigger ones provide basking portions of near 100 degrees F. In either case, keep up the temperature at the sides of the terrarium below 80 degrees. The African spurred tortoise needs complete spectrum UV Lights.


These tortoises, hailing from arid climates accustom well to living without much water. In domesticated enclosures, they find their water requirements from their foods. Anyway, place a shallow water dish, although these tortoises may rarely drink from it.. As an alternative dip the baby tortoise weekly twice in chin-deep, Luke warm water for about 10 to 15 minutes.


Feed the tortoises with plants and grasses that are very low in proteins and high in fiber. Excess consumption of proteins leads to their shell transforming into a pyramid shape. Avoid feeding them with fruits.



Do not become over exuberant with what the sellers tell you and handle your African spurred tortoises often as this may stress them. Take care, as children will suddenly drop them if spooked. When stressed, the tortoise’s health and activity levels go down.

The big sulcata tortoises normally dislike handling. Handle all tortoises with care. Do not restrict or pin them down. Leave them on their own, particularly with the young ones. Bigger tortoises tolerate handling better.

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