Russian Tortoise outdoor enclosure in Colorado

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RockyMountainMan

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Hi everyone

It has been a while since I posted on this forum. As a new RT owner, I have posted some photos of my RTs and indicated that I will be building their outdoor enclosure this summer. Well, the weather has been pretty good recently around 70F and i cannot wait any longer, so I started the project and got it done. This post is to show what I built and some questions.

Questions first:
1. Is there anyone living in Colorado or where climate is alike? When would you take your friends out living outdoor?
2. The moment I put plates out with fresh greens, unwanted visitors came, such as birds, squirrels. What shall I do? I have seen fox roaming in my backyard before, will that be a threat to my little ones?
3. My RTs weren't actively eating at all - I assume that is normal and after a few days they will get used to the new environment.
4. What other things I may have missed in this enclosure?
5. BTW, I do have to take them in as night here can gets really cold. Their activity seemed to have direct tie to the temperature, yesterday they were roaming around checking out the places all the time and today, they quietly settle inside the shelter or at the corner soaking up the sun. With no appetite for the greens that they loved so much when indoor.

I picked the old garden area in the back yard that faces South and West with full sun almost all day. I really did not do much gardening these days and decided to make an enclosures for my friends.

Here is my old garden area before the project was started.
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Here is the finished enclosure viewed from the house.
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Viewed from the fence.
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The following images show how I built a little shelter for them.
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The other shelter
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CoCo quickly discovered the place and found himself comfortable there.
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The bricks are mounted high enough and inclined towards inside making it difficult for them to climb out. All the surroundings are dug deep with bricks/rocks buried underneath to avoid them digging through, especially the corner areas.
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Tyrtle

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Hello fellow Coloradan! That is quite an outdoor space. It looks great. Are you planning to add some grass or other edible plants for the tort? Maybe a water hole?

I'm planning to build some sort of outdoor enclosure too, but mine will likely be much much smaller. I might make a chicken-wire cover for it as well. But either way, I can't imagine leaving ours out overnight even in the warmer months.
 

RockyMountainMan

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Tyrtle said:
Hello fellow Coloradan! That is quite an outdoor space. It looks great. Are you planning to add some grass or other edible plants for the tort? Maybe a water hole?

I'm planning to build some sort of outdoor enclosure too, but mine will likely be much much smaller. I might make a chicken-wire cover for it as well. But either way, I can't imagine leaving ours out overnight even in the warmer months.
Yes. Plan to spread Bermuda grass or Timothy hay seeds. Not sure about other plants that can grow in our climate. Dandelion is for sure but I have tried Aloe, prickly pears, wild strawberry, and agave and etc. which do well in Colorado, but my RTs do not like them at all. The greens I bought at grocery store are difficult to grow at my yard :-(

I have a temporary water dish set up but still look for a better, stable, a little deeper one as permanent one.
 

dmarcus

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Looking very good, you might want to consider a over hang. Those Russians are notorious climbers and escape artist.
 

GeoTerraTestudo

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I'm going to be watching this thread with great interest. A few notes:

Re: temperature and activity
Being ectothermic reptiles, tortoises are very dependent on temperature for their activity level. According to Lagarde et al. (2002), Russian tortoises require a minimum air temperature of 68*F to emerge from their burrows and become active. Their maximum temperature to maintain activity is probably around 85*F. At temperatures below and above that range, they are going to retreat to their burrows and wait it out.

Re: caves
Your caves are nice, but I would be concerned about scraping their shells against the hard cement. Is there any way you can make it so an underground space is supported by that structure, without its being exposed?

Re: walls
It does look like they might be able to climb out of there. You could cover it with a wooden frame with wire in it. This would also keep predators out.
 

RockyMountainMan

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Being ectothermic reptiles, tortoises are very dependent on temperature for their activity level. According to Lagarde et al. (2002), Russian tortoises require a minimum air temperature of 68*F to emerge from their burrows and become active. Their maximum temperature to maintain activity is probably around 85*F. At temperatures below and above that range, they are going to retreat to their burrows and wait it out.
Re: temperature and activity
This is good to know. Here in Denver Colorado we probably are looking to keep them outdoor only for part of May, June, July, August and part of September (we could get first snow in September).

Your caves are nice, but I would be concerned about scraping their shells against the hard cement. Is there any way you can make it so an underground space is supported by that structure, without its being exposed?
Re: caves
A wood structure is my choice. I would like to replace the concrete block with a dog house like structure with back open to the burrow area when it becomes available.

It does look like they might be able to climb out of there. You could cover it with a wooden frame with wire in it. This would also keep predators out.
Re: walls
So far I am confident that they won't be able to climb out. My entire back yard is securely fenced all the way to the bottom providing another layer of enclosure. The shape and slop of the enclosure make it hard to install a wooden frame with wire. Natural predators is of concern. I do not have dogs, cats or other household animals. I have seen a small red fox last winter jumping out of my fence after we came back from a week long vacation but in summer, I have not seen anything like that. My uncertainty is about caves, though they are secure, cool and strong, could it invite other burrower? Snake, Ferret? I am guessing any small housing structure outside can invite other creatures.
 

slowpoke

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love the enclosure ...but you have to figure in neighborhood cats also they like to play with them and poop in the enclosures , my neighborhood has like a billion cats, so i had to put a chicken wire top on my out door enclosure ...
 

GeoTerraTestudo

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xcbroker said:
Being ectothermic reptiles, tortoises are very dependent on temperature for their activity level. According to Lagarde et al. (2002), Russian tortoises require a minimum air temperature of 68*F to emerge from their burrows and become active. Their maximum temperature to maintain activity is probably around 85*F. At temperatures below and above that range, they are going to retreat to their burrows and wait it out.
Re: temperature and activity
This is good to know. Here in Denver Colorado we probably are looking to keep them outdoor only for part of May, June, July, August and part of September (we could get first snow in September).

BTW - I forgot to mention that their basking temperature should be around 95*F. Outside, this is achieved by sunning themselves, and then becoming active for a while.

I don't have a backyard yet, but when I do, I intend to keep my Russian tortoises outdoors year-round (and hopefully breed them). Although the rains come earlier in the season here in Colorado than in their native Central Asia, the climate is otherwise similar. As long as they have a burrow to retreat into when it's too hot, cold, dry, or wet (just like in nature), I think they would do fine.

But I haven't tried it yet myself, I only plan to do that, so I don't have direct experience of how well Russian tortoises do in Colorado, living outdoors full-time. I can only say that I think it would work well, as long as they have plenty of nutritious food to build up adequate fat reserves (again, as in nature). In nature, they can aestivate for up to 3 months in late summer and autumn, leading directly into a hibernation (brumation) period of up to 6 months in winter. Thus, Russian tortoises are active for only 3 months of the year in their native range. This is why they have such huge appetites; like squirrels, bears, and other hibernating animals, they have to store lots of fat. That's the only way they can survive such long periods of inactivity.
 

RockyMountainMan

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I don't have a backyard yet, but when I do, I intend to keep my Russian tortoises outdoors year-round (and hopefully breed them). Although the rains come earlier in the season here in Colorado than in their native Central Asia, the climate is otherwise similar. As long as they have a burrow to retreat into when it's too hot, cold, dry, or wet (just like in nature), I think they would do fine.

But I haven't tried it yet myself, I only plan to do that, so I don't have direct experience of how well Russian tortoises do in Colorado, living outdoors full-time. I can only say that I think it would work well, as long as they have plenty of nutritious food to build up adequate fat reserves (again, as in nature). In nature, they can aestivate for up to 3 months in late summer and autumn, leading directly into a hibernation (brumation) period of up to 6 months in winter. Thus, Russian tortoises are active for only 3 months of the year in their native range. This is why they have such huge appetites; like squirrels, bears, and other hibernating animals, they have to store lots of fat. That's the only way they can survive such long periods of inactivity.

I would be very interested in finding out whether this can be done. I have plenty of room to keep them inside (like basement area) during the winter but allowing them to burrow really deep and survive Colorado winter would be really cool.

nicoleandrocky said:
Wow, it looks really cool!!!
Wish i could do that

Thanks, I will be planting some grass, wild strawberry, dandelion around the enclosure these days, plus better food area and water dish. Hope it can turn out to be great. I think I need to slow down once I got the enclosure set up. Now I need to design it better to provide a good outdoor living environment for them.
 

lynnedit

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Dandelion grows only where you don't want it!
I've had the best luck getting it to sprout in enclosure by just dusting it over the surface of the soil (don't cover), and moistening it. Plantain and chicory should grow too, both do well in dry soil.
 
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