Raising a hatchling Sulcata off grid in humid tropics

RolliniaPrincess

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Aloha all! Meet Archelon. I have a small organic permaculture food forest [emoji269] on the big island of Hawaii. I’ve always wanted one of these guys, and finally made the leap. I wanted a larger older tort, but couldn’t find any. I even called all the islands humane society’s and asked if they’d ever had a tortoise surrendered. Nope. So I had a month old hatchling sent over from Kauai. He’s tinier than I expected!! I had hoped to get him in an outdoor enclosure, but that’s not happening any time soon. Right now I have him in a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tub, with air holes in sides and lid, and using clumps of sod from our gardens as his substrate. He has a ceramic plant water dish to bathe and soak in, and I soak down the soil with warm water from the outdoor shower each day. We put a lid with holes in it on at night, and during the day he’s in dappled ambient light with the lid off. (We are making a chicken wire cover in the next couple days to protect from other animals. Right now we just watch him like a hawk.) I do his soaks in a kiddie pool in the sunshine. The dominant plant species where I live is an invasive but apparently delicious grass, “” aka cane grass or guinea grass. That’s what I put in his enclosure in the sod. He isn’t eating it, although he tries it periodically but I think it’s too tough for his baby beak. We hope he’ll learn to enjoy it as he gets older, as he’ll have an infinite supply. The breeder I got him from feeds them hibiscus leaf primarily and allows them to graze grass during outdoor time. He’s chowed down hibiscus leaf, mamaki leaf, kale and radish greens so far. Our average low in coldest part of the year is 65, average hottest highs 93. Year round sunshine. We do get occasional long streaks of rain and cool weather. Sometimes 2 weeks where the sun doesn’t come out. I just got him, and we are in a rainy week. He was hungry and active on his first sunny day, but slow moving and much less hungry the next day when it was rainy and cool. I would expect that of any herp, but I’m wondering if I’m doing him a disservice by having him at the whim of the weather like this? I don’t have a light or heater for him, but much of the reason why I wanted one of these guys is that the climate is so suited to their needs. Also want to ask about ratio of “veggies” to grass. We are a market farm growing veggies so we have abundant carrot, beet, radish, kale, greens, but also have plenty grass, ti leaf, and weeds. Should I avoid giving him the richer veggie kind foods and try to stick to tender cut grass? What do you think? What can you see as potential issues with his set up? I heard in post on this forum that the babies need a similar environment to an earthworm, humidity wise. That makes sense to me, but would like to hear more opinions on that. I love this little dude already and I want him to grow into a big healthy smooth giant!
 

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wellington

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Babies have to be kept hot and humid. Temps no lower then 80 day and night and a basking spot of 95-100 and humidity of 80%. If they can't basking under the higher temps they can't digest their food. That will make them sick or die. Temps below 80 will make them sick too. Almost everyone no matter where they live needs some artificial light and heat at one point or another. Get that fixed asap and you shouldn't have any problems. Also make sure the soak water is warm not cool or cold.
Check out the care sheets and the closed chamber threads in the sulcata section.
 

wellington

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That water dish looks to be too high sided. For now find one with lower sides and use the one you have now for when he's bigger. They have to easily get in and out and if too deep they can drown should they flip over in it.
 

RolliniaPrincess

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It’s not getting below 80 right now, but in the winter I may need to supplement heat. Right now for heat I fill his dish with warm water from the shower and give the substrate a shot of warm water. It’s incredibly humid right now so it’s quite easy to keep his soil damp enough to squeeze into a ball that drips. Does he need a full sun basking spot all day- or is 2-4 hours of sun enough?
 

Tom

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Hello and welcome.

Outdoors all day and night is not good for babies, regardless of climate. They need the stability of indoors. I answer dozens of PMS every year from people in warm tropical climates asking me why their babies are failing and its the same every time. They just don't do well outdoors until they get a little bigger.

I would avoid grocery store type foods and feed mostly weeds, leaves (like the hibiscus), and grasses. Use some kale or other leafy greens once in a while for variety, but make the other stuff your staples. Avoid carrots, fruits and other sugary foods.

These threads apply no matter where you live:
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/beginner-mistakes.45180/
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/how-to-raise-a-healthy-sulcata-or-leopard-version-2-0.79895/
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/for-those-who-have-a-young-sulcata.76744/
 

Minority2

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Tortoises need shade. They need hides. The substrate also needs to be at a certain level to allow them to burrow if needed, especially when there are no hides to be found.

Tortoise also require sufficient space to properly regulate their body temperatures. I would consider replacing that Rubbermaid tub for something bigger, big enough to house that tortoise until he or she is ready to live in their outdoor enclosure.
 

RolliniaPrincess

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Thanks! All good advice. His substrate is actually deeper than it looks, it’s about 8”, and he has burrowed under during the heat of the day. We had considered doing a hide UNDER the soil substrate. He goes indoors at night, but I try to give him as much ambient daylight as possible. Is moringa is good everyday food? I have abundant supply of that. He loves the kale but I’m trying to keep it to a minimum. It’s all homegrown, so everything is more fibrous than what you’d buy at the store.
 

RolliniaPrincess

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I think our next move will be to double the size of the enclosure with the next size up tub, and I’ll add a wood hide partially buried, and a basking stone, and we’ll place it where it gets half deep shade and half sun. I’ll also invest in a heat gun so I can make sure the temperature gradient is enough.
 

RolliniaPrincess

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Oh and he comes in and out of the water dish easily. It has sloped sides and he doesn’t seem to have trouble with it.
 

Minority2

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I think our next move will be to double the size of the enclosure with the next size up tub, and I’ll add a wood hide partially buried, and a basking stone, and we’ll place it where it gets half deep shade and half sun. I’ll also invest in a heat gun so I can make sure the temperature gradient is enough.

Please read the threads that Tom has provided for you. The hatchling phase is a very critical stage of a tortoise's development. Symptoms of health complications may show at the latest and most severe states. It is very important to get hydration, diet, and enclosure temperature/humidity issues right from the start.

Doubling the size of your current tub may work temporarily for other, smaller species of tortoises. Sulcatas, on the other hand, are going to need something much larger.

If you have the space for a large outdoor enclosure why not build a large humid hide box and covert that to a mini enclosure for the time being? Take advantage of that sun. Include a heating panel/ceramic heat emitter for nighttime use. Power that with an extension cord and thermostat. That would be a cheaper option in the long run since you'll still going to be reusing that box/setup when the tortoise gets bigger. All you have to do is cut an opening for the tortoise once they are big enough to be housed outdoors.
 

RolliniaPrincess

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Joined
Aug 14, 2018
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6
Location (City and/or State)
Kukuihaele
Please read the threads that Tom has provided for you. The hatchling phase is a very critical stage of a tortoise's development. Symptoms of health complications may show at the latest and most severe states. It is very important to get hydration, diet, and enclosure temperature/humidity issues right from the start.

Doubling the size of your current tub may work temporarily for other, smaller species of tortoises. Sulcatas, on the other hand, are going to need something much larger.

If you have the space for a large outdoor enclosure why not build a large humid hide box and covert that to a mini enclosure for the time being? Take advantage of that sun. Include a heating panel/ceramic heat emitter for nighttime use. Power that with an extension cord and thermostat. That would be a cheaper option in the long run since you'll still going to be reusing that box/setup when the tortoise gets bigger. All you have to do is cut an opening for the tortoise once they are big enough to be housed outdoors.

I love that idea. Anyone have pics of a large humid hide like that?
 
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