Adult Leopard tortoise - Am I doing it right?


The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 9, 2010
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Bullet point responses in order:
  • Wrong doesn't necessarily mean deceiving, it's possible they did not know or that it's location-specific (illegal at the state or county level, which is quite possible given the county's population of 1.7 million). They had no reason to lie, seeing as I would have gone through them anyways. Regardless though, I'm not really upset because I was purely interested in Russian because they were "beginner" tortoises, but I am not a beginner reptile keeper by any means.
  • See above reply. Also, in case you didn't see an earlier response, he is actually about 8.5 inches. This probably doesn't change the recommended enclosure size by very much, but it's worth noting.
  • (see above)
  • (see above)
  • With regards to spot cleaning, I have some difficulty finding the spots where he urinates (poop is obviously easy). Any recommendations?
  • For UVB, I use a 3' long 10.0 tube lamp (link), so all areas of the enclosure are exposed. I turn this on around 8-9am every morning and leave it on until 7-8pm in the evenings, and I also give him natural sun exposure when it is warm this time of year (he will get full natural sunlight in the warm months).
  • As mentioned before he is actually 8.5" x 4.5", and for his basking lamp I use ReptiSun 100W basking lamp (link). At the height of his shell and directly underneath the bulb, the basking temperature is around 98/99 degrees. The temperature stays above 90 degrees inside a circle with a diameter of about 14", so he can fit his whole body in this warm spot.
  • I have had good success so far with getting him to eat hay, but he doesn't eat straight hay as of yet. I also recently purchased Zoo Med's grassland tortoise food (link) that I plan on also working into his meals somehow (I am thinking soaking it and coating the supermarket greens in it to start). I figured why not, since variety can only be good for him, and supposedly many tortoises love the taste.
  • The most I've gotten him to soak so far is about 12 minutes. He seems to really hate the baths and is constantly trying to get out. The temperature is luke-warm, but I've tried adjusting that temperature just in case that's what was bothering him but to no avail. The deepest it gets is to just a tiny bit above the bottom of the palstron.
  • Excellent, that range is exactly what I was looking for. If I don't mist it, the lowest it gets is about 40% (50% with live plants that he has since trampled haha)

Thank you so much for all of these!
Do you have a UV meter? The regular 10.0 bulbs put out very little UV. Be careful if you are relying on this tube to meet your tortoises winter UV needs. It might not be.

Spot bulbs should not be used over any tortoise. They concentrate too much heat into too small of an area. In small tortoises they cause pyramiding. In larger tortoises, like yours, they slow burn the top of the carapace and fail to warm the tortoise's core enough.

The zoomed pellets, and the way you are introducing them are great. Good way to add fiber and variety to grocery store greens.

Too soak your tortoise you just put him in a tub and keep the water warm. The tortoise doesn't decide when the soak is done. You do. If they start getting active and trying to climb out, that is okay. We call that the tortoise treadmill, and its great exercise. All the locomotion helps thing move along in the GI tract, much like a horse on a hot walker, or being hand walked.

Pot your live plants to keep them from being trampled.

Now on to the not-so-fun part: The sad fact is that if you can't meet this tortoise's space needs, or any other needs, you need to give it to someone who can. It does harm to keep a tortoise in an enclosure that is too small. It does harm to let them free roam on the floor. Tortoises need a lot of enclosure space to roam in. Not everyone can provide this kind of space. To those people, I recommend pet species that have smaller space requirements. The animal doesn't care about your living expenses, your space limitations, or your lack of safe yard space. It needs what it needs. This is not a case of "doing the best you can". You have a living animal and if you can't, don't or won't meet its care requirements, then you should give it to someone who can and will. The tortoise's welfare is what is at stake and what is important here. Your feelings about me, or this conversation are secondary. My primary concern is that your tortoise has what it needs to remain healthy. A small enclosure, the wrong bulbs, and a habit of free roaming the floor, are all contrary to the goal of keeping your tortoise alive and healthy. I've been keeping turtles and tortoise since the 70s. Leopards since the early 90's. I'm saying these tings to you because I've seen time and time again what goes wrong. Some people I can reach before disaster strikes, and some people I can't.


The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 9, 2010
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Sorry 2 more quick notes for anyone crafting a reply:

1. The vet nearest us does indeed see many species of tortoise including leopards, and I am hoping to get him in for a general checkup (since I just got him) in early February when the specialist is back.
2. The outside deck I plan to house him in during the warm months is about 10' x 6'.
1. Most vets know very little about tortoises and their care. They usually do more harm than good. There is no semester on tortoise care in vet school. Many of my vet friends that see exotics call ME for tortoise advice. Be cautious if you ever need vet help.

2. 10x6 is better, weather permitting.

Lyn W

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Jul 22, 2014
Location (City and/or State)
I have received a wide range of contradictory information on calcium supplements for leopard tortoise. Most say a pinch or two every day, some say once or twice a week. Why do you do it at this rate?
Most of their calcium should come from their diet, I also leave a cuttlefish bone for my tort to nibble if he wants. (the sort for birds but with any plastic or metal cage clips removed). Most of the time he ignores it but that maybe because he doesn't need it.
Have a look at the post KarenSoCal's added here - she explains it better than I could.


New Member
Jan 5, 2021
Location (City and/or State)
Bay Area, California
Hello again everyone,

I thought I would give an update on my tortoise for anyone still following this thread.

First off, Tom - I apologize if you thought I was getting defensive, this was not my reaction. I just try to really understand the reasons behind your advice, which can be misinterpreted. I do not doubt that you know what you are doing to a degree far above that of most tortoise keepers, but please do not be offended if I initially question some of your recommendations - it's all for the benefit of my understanding.

Attached are pictures of the current setup, which has changed a fair bit since I first got him (pardon the terrible panorama):
  1. Added a wooden dowel that runs the length of the cage to hang 3 potted plants. All plants were raised in organic soil with no fertilizers or pesticides. Thanks to these plants, the humidity level is pinned at about 50% but I usually mist the enclosure 1-2 times daily. From left to right, the plants are:
    1. "String of Bananas" Curio Radicans (which I may remove due to its potential do be slightly toxic, though this is not certain)
    2. "Peperomia Hope"
    3. "Peperomia Ruby Cascade"
  2. Added a food bowl because he has a tendency to get his food everywhere in the substrate. The piece of slate that used to be his food dish is now under his basking spot, where it reaches a maximum temperature of about 110 degrees.
  3. Added rocks around the terra cotta water dish and food bowl. This keeps the substrate out of both and helps prevent food from getting into the substrate (I still spot clean daily though). The rocks are a mix of ones I found outside (and boiled) and store-bought polished river rock.
  4. Added a blue puzzle toy ball that I'll occasionally fill with greens for enrichment. He also enjoys pushing it around.
I will still be upgrading his cage, but I have held off on purchasing the aforementioned 6' x 4' because I have another idea that would give him even more space. Skip to the end to read about this.

I am slowly weaning him off supermarket produce in favor of the Zoo-Med Grassland Tortoise Diet pellets with great success. His meals right now consist of a small handful of 2-3 different types of supermarket greens (usually dandelion greens + escarole or endive with something else that I rotate weekly), a small handful of timothy hay, and a fair amount of the Zoo-Med diet (probably like 10-20 pellets). I wash the greens (even though they are organic) to get them wet, coat them in timothy hay, rehydrate the pellets with warm water, and then mix everything together. I also bought the Mazuri diet to try it out, and I'll sometimes add a few of those pellets in with the Zoo-Med pellets.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been slowly increasing the timothy hay + pellet-to-greens ratio and he seems to have acquired a taste for hay and pellets. Starting about a week ago, I've seen him on a few occasions smell and eat clumps of pellet/timothy hay mixture with no greens in it, which is a good sign. My hope is that within a few more weeks, I can feed him the pellets and hay as his staple with about one handfuls-worth of varied supermarket greens every other day or so. I also dust his food twice a week with the calcium+D3 powder.

In the warm months when I move him to the 6' x 10' deck, I plan on providing him with two large tubs of fresh grass and weeds to graze on - one filled with Carolina Pet Supply Grazing Tortoise Mix and the other filled with Theodore Payne Desert Tortoise Mix.

Nothing here has really changed, except I am slightly worried about his UVB exposure. After doing a bit more research, it seems that the screen on top of his enclosure could be preventing him from getting enough exposure. I will be investing in a UVB meter as soon as I can to double check that this works. If not, I will come up with a way to mount the lighting inside, making sure it's at the appropriate distance from him.

He seems to have improved a lot since I got him:
  1. His temperament has gone from "very shy" to "outgoing" - he seems to enjoy interaction, being pet and touched, and is surprisingly playful. If I hadn't seen the improvement myself, I would have thought he was a different tortoise.
  2. He has put on some healthy weight. He currently weighs ~4.2 lbs, but my scale is not very accurate.
  3. His stools are much better, about the consistency of a healthy dog's stool (compared to the watery mess he passed once every 2-3 days when I first got him), maybe a bit more mushy. He poops once a day and usually passes urates every 2-3 days, and it's a good color with the consistency of toothpaste.
Against the recommendation of some, I did take him to the vet last week for an all-around checkup. This is a high quality vet that exclusively sees exotics, and I like them a lot. About 90% of their advice aligns directly with what I've read on this forum, and they are very detailed.

As part of their exam, they tested his stools and it turns out he is carrying a fairly hefty load of 4 different types of parasites (!!!), for which they prescribed medication. This is entirely the result of poor care he got previously, and it's surprising how well his stools look considering this. I look forward to seeing more improvement as the medication does its thing.

They also took a blood sample to test, and I am eagerly awaiting the results.

A 6' x 4' enclosure for the cold months is my fallback, but as a potentially even better idea, I could get customizable play pen panels to artificially extend his living space. 28 panels would create about 52 square feet of living space, bring his total enclosure area up to 60 square feet. I can also easily fold up or disassemble the panels and store them when it is warm.

Now I know what you are all thinking - this is essentially no different than letting him roam around the apartment - but let me explain how I would set up the area further before weighing in. I am imagining:
  • A home-built ramp that allows him to freely move between the penned area on the floor and his "normal" enclosure.
  • Either a tarp or several clean towels as a "substrate" for easy cleaning and protection from anything that might be lingering on the floor.
  • Opaque decals or something similar covering the bottom 6-8" of the panels so that he cannot see through them.
  • A screen cover or something similar to allow additional UVB lamps in the paneled area.
  • Decor, toys, etc
Again, the temperature in my apartment AT THE FLOOR never drops below 75 degrees, and is typically about 78 degrees, so I am not worried about him getting too cold - though I could place a heating pad in the paneled area if I needed to. Provided that he understands the ramp, he can always just go back into his ordinary enclosure to bask.

The humidity in my apartment is probably low, but he is an adult so his requirements are relaxed. He also always has access to fresh water for hydration. If I really need to, I could cover most of the wire panels with plastic or tarp or something to better hold humidity, but I don't see that as necessary.

Is this idea as good as a proper 10' x 6' enclosure? No. Is it better than letting him roam around the floor, even if I check for hazards and monitor him closely? Probably. Is it preferable to dedicating an entire room for his enclosure giving my living situation? Absolutely, unequivocally yes.
But is it safe enough to pursue? You tell me. It seems reasonable enough for the 4-5 cold months when he's not outside, but I'm not an expert.

Thanks again to everyone who has participated in this thread, I have learned a tremendous amount over the last month and I could not have gotten to this point without your advice.


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