New Sulcata Owners

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You Me and Mr T

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Hey everybody,

I have always had a special love for tortoises and was in the process of convincing my boyfriend to let me adopt a desert tortoise when I received a phone call from a friend. He had found Mr. T roaming around a new housing development in Queen Creek Arizona and after searching for the owners, gave up and took him home. He kept him for about 4 months and after realizing that tortoises and St. Bernards don't mix well, offered him to me and my boyfriend. We immediately said yes and drove to pick him up. We were shocked at his size! It took two people to lift him up and he filled up the back hatch of our SUV. We immediately fell in love with this giant grumpy creature and we have enjoyed getting to know him and his eccentric behavior ever since. It has definitely been a learning process as Mr. T defies all normal characteristics of most Sulcata tortoises. We appreciate any ideas on building shelters, treats and "normal" tortoise behavoir that you all can offer!
~Jason&Sarah
 

tortoisenerd

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Welcome to the forum! We could love to see more photos of Mr. T. I see him in your avatar and he looks small from that point of view! What do you have as far as an enclosure/yard now?

I assume in your area you don't need heat (unless you are further North). A dog igloo, wood hut, small shed, etc can work great. They do need shade and a large shallow pan of water to soak in at all times. Luckily with a larger tort one of the good things is that it is easier to have a water pan for them to use vs. the tiny torts with little legs. Is your yard organic? Is he able to graze?

There are lots of great weeds and such you can plant, as well as veggie and lettuce seeds.

Are you asking what foods you can offer as treats? There are edible flowers such as hibiscus, dandelion greens and flowers, cactus pads, etc. I personally think you should stick to the "good" foods and stay away from the "bad" stuff like fruits. Lots of good stuff out there. Have you looked at africantortoise.com?

Can you describe your care/husbandry a little more? With that, some of us may be able to give you some pointers.

Any specific questions about normal tort behavior? They have a lot of personality! Maybe describe his behavior more....that could help.

You probably want to get his weight, and measure his Straight Carapace Length (straight length of the shell, not curved). Keep track of this monthly to make sure it doesn't drop. I assume he's fully grown? Any estimate on age? That's interesting that he's someone's pet that wandered off. Sad, but I'm glad he has a new home since you seem interested in giving him a good home.

Best wishes.
 
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You Me and Mr T

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Mr. T lives in my back yard in Phoenix. It's fenced in by a block wall. I have a ~1000 sq ft organic bermuda grass area for him to graze. He mainly sleeps under an acacia tree where he has burrowed down into some dirt I piled up for him. Recently I build a roof over his burrow to protect him from the rain when the monsoons come. The tree also helps with the rain and provided plenty of shade all day long.

We don't need any more heat in Phoenix right now, but in the winter I will need to provide some sort of heated housing so he doesn't get too cold at night. I've thought about a dogloo, but he's pretty big, so I don't know if he'd fit. Any alternatives?

I made a mud pit for Mr. T that I fill up completely on the weekend, but I've never seen him go into it. During the week, a drip system makes the dirt muddy, but not really a pool. We really need to come up with a better solution for him to soak. We couldn't find a dish that was big enough. The only thing we could find was a blue kiddie pool, but it is too deep. He's pretty picky about anything so it has to be convenient for him. Any ideas?

I have a permanent water dish available at all times, but I've never seen him drink from it. When I come home from work, I fill up a different dish with water and put hit right in front of him and he usually takes a drink and blows bubbles. On hot days we hose him off with cold water. I also set the sprinklers to go off for 5 minutes, three times a day in addition to the normal night time watering.

Mr. T loves romaine lettuce. We usually give it to him as a treat on the weekend along with one apple. We've tried hibiscus flowers, pumpkin, and cactus pads, but he doesn't seem to care for those.

Mr. T seems to be pretty shy. We've only had him for a couple of months so I think he's starting to get used to us. He lets us pet his shell for a little bit, but if we move to fast or scratch too long he gets annoyed.

We named him Mr. T because he acts very old and wise. Like an old man, Mr. T seems to fall asleep in different parts of the yard when he gets tired and won't go back to his burrow until the morning. We're not sure if this in normal, so any thoughts would be appreciated.

I would estimate his weight to be ~80-100 lbs. It takes two people to move him for any distance. I measured his carapace to be about 23 inches long. We really don't know is age. He seems to be pretty large in comparison to most of the sulcatas we see on this forum. How do you age a tortoise?

We'll post more pictures tomorrow. In the mean time, I've attached the full picture from my avatar and another from my camera phone. You can use the brick around the grass as a size reference.

~Jason

2.jpg 1.jpg
 
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Yvonne G

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Hi Jason:

662746nqrdxj5d29.gif


to the forum!

Yvonne
 

tortoisenerd

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What is your lowest temperature at night in winter? Does him enclosure have a slope so the monsoon rain will run off (I used to live in Northern Arizona so know firsthand how quick things can flood)?

You can get a big dogloo. As long as it is big enough for him to get in and turn around, he won't need much space for shelter when he has the whole yard. You may even want one in the shade and one in the sun to provide options. Building a wood hut (even without a floor) is another option. If you do something without a floor it will keep even warmer due to ambient ground heat; you just need to make sure it will not be getting flooded. A storage shed without a floor such as those with the barn-style doors is a great option.

You can dig a hole and put in pond liner or shower pan liner to seal it, and then keep it filled with water. Make a slope for him to walk down into, and then have it deep enough to go where the plasteron meets the carapace (the shell halves). Try to hide the edges of the pond liner such as with plants so maybe he doesn't try to bite at it. There are natural ways to make an outdoor soaking area. Some even make them of concrete. You can flood them out to clean them as needed. Sprinklers are great, so are mud holes. Just try to make them in the warmest area. Wet and hot is great, but not cold and wet. That is great you are keeping him hydrated. That is very important, especially as it's getting over 100.

I would never feed apple but that's my personal opinion. Does he graze well? What about planting other broadleaf plants and veggie seeds (look up safe ones he can eat the leaves from; no peppers or tomatoes or things in the nightshade family) and variety so he can just graze full time? Spring Mix is another option besides Romaine (you can buy a huge tub at Costco for $4), but at his age/size he should be grazing for almost all of his diet--grasses, weeds, plants, etc.

Tortoises are very skittish if you sneak up on them. He will only get more used to you over time. Torts like to nap. They also thermoregulate to keep an ideal temperature, so they will stay in an area they like temperature and safety wise even if it is not their "home".

Butternut squash is another great treat food.

His shell looks pretty good! Are you sure he is a he? If so, there is either a chance he could grow more or be fully grown. Some of our members can estimate age based on shell but I'm not that good yet. I was just curious if you at all knew though. I read online that male Sulcatas can reach 200 pounds and 30 inches in length. He's cute! I can't wait to get a gentle giant like that someday. I have a little guy.

Best wishes. Sounds like you are doing great so far.
 

Crazy1

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Welcome to the forum Jason and Sarah and of course Mr T. He looks like he has been rather well cared for. has minimal pyramiding. He will hide out in his burrow in the heat of the day, that is pretty normal. Romain you can give him occasionally for a treat but I would look into healthier foods for him. Sullys are grazers so Grasses are good. Congratulations on becoming Mr.T's keeper
 
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Maggie Cummings

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Hi and welcome to the forum...I see Kate has already offered you excellent advice so my only input is that they can't process sugar the way we do so apples really aren't good for them. Maybe as an occasional treat but not regularly. I just gave my Bob some watermelon but that is a very rare thing. I also believe they should and they prefer to have a safe protected place to sleep at night. I redid a shed for Bob at the back of my property and every night around the same time he goes in his shed and goes to bed. Inside the shed is a sleeping box with a pig blanket for him and he sleeps in that sleeping box every night. I think they like to feel safe and secure and I lock Bob's shed at night. I think that you need to think about creating a safe secure place for him to sleep at night. What are you going to do when it rains? Also you will probably need to supplement his feeding as he will run out of graze in your yard in a few days. Here's a couple of care sheets for you to read so you understand the kind of care they need...

http://africantortoise.com/

http://www.chelonia.org/Articles/sulcatacare.htm
Caring for them is not as easy as you think, temperature and diet are very important to keep a healthy tortoise. They shouldn't be any colder than about 70 degrees ever...anyhow welcome to the forum...
 
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You Me and Mr T

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Attached are some more pictures of Mr. T. You can see the shelter I built for him over his burrow that is under the acacia tree. He didn't want to come out from his burrow and play at 1 PM in the Arizona sun.

We only give him apples once every couple of weeks. He mostly eats the bermuda grass and I don't ever see him running out. My lawn is ~1000 sq ft.

~Jason
 

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tortoisenerd

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I would say that the typical tort spends much much more time resting/sleeping/napping than out and about. Probably normal. I would however take any new tort to the vet to see if they notice anything. I have heard of many torts here who will neat through a lawn even that big. If you can, in at least one area, you can add some variety and plant more seeds for graze foods. I know most people with torts have rather redneck looking yards with all the weeds and such. :)
 
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Maggie Cummings

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After you see how much they can eat, you might change your opinion on him running out of graze. I also have a large (tho not as large) Sulcata and Bob eats down his pen regularly and it's planted with much more stuff then just Bermuda...Looking at those pictures (thanks!) I'd say 2 things...he looks dehydrated and that shelter is not good enough. He needs something that the minimum would be a dogloo and better would be a shed. His shelter is not safe and not protected. What are you going to do when your monsoon comes?
Here is the inside of Bob's shed where you can see his sleeping box, and a tort table with a small tort in it...
avssrc.jpg

Here is an outside view of the shed with the 2 Sulcata and Big Bubba going in the doggie door
72aul4.jpg

Here's a close-up of Bob but I want you to look at the quality of his graze. My yard is about 800 sq feet and he will have this eaten down in a few more weeks
v7qera.jpg


I don't mean to nag but I am just trying to show you what to expect. In the wild Sulcata roam for miles as they graze. They take a bite and walk and take another bite and walk some more. So they need a lot of exercise and a lot of food. He also needs humidity and you can use a kiddie pool for soaking, you just cut out one side for an entrance...he is large but his body looks a little skinny so I would also suggest that his meals need to be supplemented. Even with the good graze that Bob has, I supplement him in the evening. I give him some grocery store greens to make a meal before he goes to bed. I put calcium on it daily and about 3 times a week I add TNT, that's a powdered supplement especially made for grazing tortoises and has all the vitamins and minerals they are supposed to have.
I hope this has helped you, and I hope you will be able and willing to make the changes that we all have suggested...
 

Yvonne G

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Hi Jason and Sarah:

I got my Dudley when he weighed 35lbs. He now weighs a little over 100lbs and is 20 years old. They all grow at different rates, so there is no way to tell how old Mr. T is, but I would guess he's probably right around that....20 years or so.

Yvonne
 
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You Me and Mr T

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I feel like a dogloo would be too small for Mr. T, so I'm looking into rubbermaid sheds. Can you overfeed them with too many greens from the grocery store? What is a good amount per day or per week? Where can I get the calcium supplements?
 

tortoisenerd

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You can get a calcium supplement for humans at health food stores called "Calcium Carbonate" powder. Or, buy stuff at a pet store that is just pure calcium powder. The human stuff is cheaper and more regulated (FDA).

Yes, you could overfeed with grocery store greens if they do not get enough exercise. If Mr. T has the run of a large yard however, I would hope that he would just eat his fill and leave the rest (if they walk away from food it's probably too much, but if they want more then they are still hungry). It is best to monitor weight and Straight Carapace Length (SCL) monthly if you can to see if you should increase or decrease food as a supplement to the graze. If a tort is on the small size (low weight for their shell length) then you would want to definitely let them eat as much as they want. If you are feeding a good varied diet and he gets exercise it's probably not something to worry about.

That is great you are looking into a shed.
 

egyptiandan

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Welcome to the forum Jason & Sarah :)

Danny
 

Yvonne G

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You Me and Mr T said:
I feel like a dogloo would be too small for Mr. T, so I'm looking into rubbermaid sheds. Can you overfeed them with too many greens from the grocery store? What is a good amount per day or per week? Where can I get the calcium supplements?

My Dudley lives outside year-round. He has three pastures that I rotate him through (however, he has broken down the fence between two of them, and so he now has two pastures I rotate him through), and I don't feed him at all. Even in the winter, when the grass is brown, he has to subsist on eating brown grass. I will occasionally cut a few branches off the mulberry tree and toss them in his pen, but other than an occasional treat, he only grazes.

For all of you with small or baby sulcatas, this email is strictly for the larger guys. Your little guys have to be fed. But the larger ones, in my opinion, do better on forage. In my opinion, a tortoise (or a cow, or a horse) would naturally prefer to have a nice clump of easy-to-eat food plopped down in front of him. Its much easier to fill up on a pile of food, rather than to have to walk...bite...walk...bite, etc. Any animal would prefer to take the easy way out. But, in my opinion, its healthier for the animal to graze. I see this over and again with my horses. I don't feed them a morning meal because they are on pasture. However, my younger mare always waits by the fence (even though the gate to the pasture is open) waiting for me to feed her either a pile of hay or a bucket of pellets. Once she realizes I'm not going to cave, she will go out and graze. Its the same with a tortoise. They would much prefer to have you give them the easy meal, but if you have a nice yard, planted with grasses and weeds, he doesn't need any grocery store food.

Yvonne
 

Tortuslvr

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Wanted to tell you about a treat I made for my Sulcata Sam. For the Red Foot Tort's I add apples, fresh pineapple, grapes, kiwi, strawberries etc. with the veggies. And leave out the Alfalfa pellets.
I rough chopped a ton of veggies:
2 yellow squash
2 green squash
lg handful of collard greens
1/2 green bell pepper
1 small cucumber
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
1 box of unflavored knox gelatin
3/4 cup of alfalfa pellets or mazzuri tort food
2 TBL of powdered vitamin supplement
1 pulverized cuttlebone
I used the cucumber and some water to make my 3 cups of liquid to boil and disolve my 4 packages of unflavored knox gelatin in, add one more cup of cold water.
Stir together and let set up in a 13 X 9 pan. Cut into 2" squares and freeze. Thaw before feeding and only feed 1-2 a week. It is a great way to get their supplements down them weekly!!!
 
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