30 year old Sulcata suddenly wanting to escape

Alsprotector

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We have Al... He is approximately 40 years old, 105 pounds and his shell is about 23" across... A big guy.

Very recently he has been escaping his enclosure. Fortunately, it is a rural area and neighbors have been kind enough to help and we have gotten him back home. He started this a few weeks ago... We were worried that his house being in need of repair, that maybe he didn't have what he felt safe with for the cool season coming up. So...we built him a new home which he seems to like. Al is quite spoiled with fresh dandelion greens, greens that grow in his enclosure, cactus paddles, apples, water, warmth...everything. His enclosure is huge. His house is plenty for him. Nothing we can see in his environment makes sense as a "problem." At least, not that we understand.
We have reinforced his enclose so he cannot go on walkabout and get hurt or killed. He keeps trying...and trying...and trying...
What could possibly have changed to have him try to escape after all of these years? He used to do that occasionally a handful of times. Now it seems really urgent to him. Does anyone know? No one else seems to... We are worried for our Al. Any help would be great...
 

Yvonne G

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I don't know what caused the original need in him, but the continued need is because he now knows there is more to the world on the other side of his fence. It's a mistake to allow a sulcata to know there's more to the world on the other side of his fence. Once they know that, they always want out.

All I can tell you is to fortify the fence so he can't escape. He will eventually settle down and stop trying. Might take a while. . . they're very stubborn.
 

Alsprotector

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I don't know what caused the original need in him, but the continued need is because he now knows there is more to the world on the other side of his fence. It's a mistake to allow a sulcata to know there's more to the world on the other side of his fence. Once they know that, they always want out.

All I can tell you is to fortify the fence so he can't escape. He will eventually settle down and stop trying. Might take a while. . . they're very stubborn.
Thank you SO much... We were so worried and he has been around a long time. His previous owners left a great deal to be desired and we got his diet up to snuff, have done research over the past 3+ years that we have had him in our care and he is healthier than before by alot. I wondered if his new found health might have brought that out? The first time he escaped, he ended up at the wildlife sanctuary via the SPCA. He was in an enclosure with a younger male sulcata and they got along very well. He didn't have companionship before that and i wondered if now that he had it, he was upset and looking.
 

Tom

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Its physically possible that he's 30 years old, but unlikely. Can't be 40 years old. Because the public didn't have them in 1978 and they weren't bred until 1979 in one of the first zoos to have them. They didn't become available to the public until about 1990 with rare exception.

In any case, I agree with what Yvonne said. If he has escaped multiple times, then your enclosure is not sturdy enough and needs to be rebuilt.

Tortoises don't do well in pairs, and adult male sulcatas usually fight to the death. Not all of them and not every single minute of every day, but eventually one of those two would likely have been killed. Adult male sulcatas do not want or need any companionship. They don't see other tortoises as friends or companions. They see them as rivals to be chased away or to run from.
 

Alsprotector

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Its physically possible that he's 30 years old, but unlikely. Can't be 40 years old. Because the public didn't have them in 1978 and they weren't bred until 1979 in one of the first zoos to have them. They didn't become available to the public until about 1990 with rare exception.

In any case, I agree with what Yvonne said. If he has escaped multiple times, then your enclosure is not sturdy enough and needs to be rebuilt.

Tortoises don't do well in pairs, and adult male sulcatas usually fight to the death. Not all of them and not every single minute of every day, but eventually one of those two would likely have been killed. Adult male sulcatas do not want or need any companionship. They don't see other tortoises as friends or companions. They see them as rivals to be chased away or to run from.
No, it is not physically impossible that this is his age. And yes, this IS one of those "rare exceptions" that you speak of. You are correct in that the "General Public" did not have access. This does not apply in this case. However, in response to your other comments on "companionship" I do appreciate that... I had heard this to be true but the sudden change in behavior after so many years has had us looking at many options, trying to get some answers to make whatever accommodations that need to be made. Just reaching out... Thanks for the input.
 

Tom

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Well now I'm curious! Is this one of the original wild caught imports from the late 70's early 80's that was in a zoo? Do tell! Its rare to see any of those, but common for people to claim they have a 50 or 60 year old sulcata. Share the history on this one? Pictures? Where did it come from?
 

Alsprotector

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Well now I'm curious! Is this one of the original wild caught imports from the late 70's early 80's that was in a zoo? Do tell! Its rare to see any of those, but common for people to claim they have a 50 or 60 year old sulcata. Share the history on this one?
LOL. I can't recall the entire history, because it's not "my" history but yes, he is among those and he did come from a Zoo. No one smuggled him in, in a handbag or anything but he did arrive via a Zoo. They estimate that he is around 40, actually. We were concerned that he might be more like 60, then gratefully found out he was closer to 38-40. He had some issues early on in his life. too much protein, leading to the pyramid-type shell and a few other things that happened before he had a real home. It sounds like it was a bizarre set of circumstances that led him here, but...he is definitely here and has been for at least 30+ of his years. Wish I had more of the story, but would have to ask again to get a refresher on how it all came down. He is really cool... Comes when I call him, follows me everywhere, sat in my lap the other day which was really, really heavy. He is definitely our buddy.
 

Alsprotector

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Oh, btw.... His strength and weight being returned after his escapades? OMG. He could go through almost anything. Now Al has concrete.
 

Alsprotector

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He is really dirty in this photo. Al is 108 pounds according to the wildlife hospital where he was incarcerated after his big escape for a few days so we could panic and cry. His burrow, now closed for the winter, goes about 15 feet back and about 8 feet wide at its base. He gets dirty with all of that remodeling. He gets washed off and does it all over again everyday in the warmer months. In the Winter he stays in his house. I checked with family and they said he is anywhere from 28-30. The veterinarian said 30-40 years... I hope he is younger so he will be around longer. His shell is 22" wide and I think, 26" inches long. He wouldn't stay still so the measurements weren't perfect when he walked away.

Al and Dandelion Greens.jpg
 

Alsprotector

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Does anyone know if Stipa or Mexican Feather Grass is poisonous? Everytime I do a search, it just heads me back to Fescue and doesn't answer my question.
 

Markw84

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Does anyone know if Stipa or Mexican Feather Grass is poisonous? Everytime I do a search, it just heads me back to Fescue and doesn't answer my question.
I can't give you a positive/definitive answer, but i would not be concerned about this grass. It is in the same family as the fescues, rye grass, poa annua, bermuda grass, cereals (like wheat), etc, all of which are safe and in fact good foods. The major concern with Nassella tenuissima is that it is considered invasive in some countries and banned. However, in the US it is often considered a fantastic ornamental grass in landscaping as it is so hardy and does so well in xeric landscaping.
 

Alsprotector

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I can't give you a positive/definitive answer, but i would not be concerned about this grass. It is in the same family as the fescues, rye grass, poa annua, bermuda grass, cereals (like wheat), etc, all of which are safe and in fact good foods. The major concern with Nassella tenuissima is that it is considered invasive in some countries and banned. However, in the US it is often considered a fantastic ornamental grass in landscaping as it is so hardy and does so well in xeric landscaping.

Thank you for that ! It is true, if left to it's own devices it can be invasive. I have noticed that the further South in California you go, the more vigorous a grower of course. In Northern California, not so much as the heat levels are definitely not the same. I was wanting to add more dry grasses for Mister Al as his green level is up there and in ornamental terms, this one has always been a staple. i really appreciate the feedback. Many thanks.
 

Alsprotector

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Well now I'm curious! Is this one of the original wild caught imports from the late 70's early 80's that was in a zoo? Do tell! Its rare to see any of those, but common for people to claim they have a 50 or 60 year old sulcata. Share the history on this one? Pictures? Where did it come from?
Tom, I'll ask about the history again... It's been so long since I have heard the story, I have forgotten most details. When I get my "refresher" Ill post it here. :)
 

Markw84

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Its physically possible that he's 30 years old, but unlikely. Can't be 40 years old. Because the public didn't have them in 1978 and they weren't bred until 1979 in one of the first zoos to have them. They didn't become available to the public until about 1990 with rare exception.
.
Just for the sake of additional info...

I actually purchased a very mature pair of adult sulcatas from a group that were imported from Niger in the early 90's. I know there were at least 10 adults in that group that I saw. I estimated my female was at least 25 and the male older than that when I received them. I wish I still had them as they were a great pair and gave me lots of babies. I had to downsize about 12 years ago. I have no idea where they are now - I wish I did! So somewhere- hopefully- there is a pair that is at least 55-60 years old!
 

Tom

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Tom, I'll ask about the history again... It's been so long since I have heard the story, I have forgotten most details. When I get my "refresher" Ill post it here. :)
Thank you. I love hearing tidbits of info about the early sulcatas in this country, like yours and the info @Markw84 shares.
 
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