African Sulcata Tortoise: Description and Care

African Sulcata Tortoise is a species of land turtles, the only living species of the genus Centrochelys. The largest of African land turtles and the third-largest in the world, after the elephant and giant turtles.

  • African Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone Sulcata)
  • Class – reptiles
  • Squad – turtles
  • Family – land turtles
  • Genus – Geochelone



The largest continental turtle and the third-largest in the world, the shell can reach 76 cm in length (the maximum recorded shell length is 83 cm). Males reach a weight of 60-100 kg, females – 30-40 (60) kg. The forelimbs are pillar-shaped and have 5 claws. The carapace is uniformly reddish-brown to brown with well-defined growth rings. Both females and males have 2-3 large spurs on their thighs, for which this turtle has another name – Shporonosnaya. The growths are needed to dig holes for the eggs.

Turtles with lumpy shells are sometimes found. This is not the norm and occurs due to excess phosphorus, lack of calcium, and moisture.
The skin of Spurred turtles is very thick with large, hard shields that allow them to carry dry hot air. Turtles are very strong and can bend aluminum and steel into their shells.


The range of African Sulcata Tortoise covers central Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia, it inhabits mainly savannas and deserts. It is a dry and warm climate with temperatures ranging from 15 C in the coldest winter to almost 45 C throughout the summer. Rain in these areas may not appear for years.

They dig highly branched burrows-tunnels, in which they spend the night and part of the day during the hottest hours, while the sun warms up. These burrows begin at a depth of 70 cm and can be up to 3 meters or deeper and up to 30 m long. The burrows provide these turtles with moisture, which they receive through their skin.


These turtles are herbivorous, but occasionally eat protein foods of animal origin. They can go without water for a long time, but willingly drink it when possible.
In captivity, turtles are fed with herbs, houseplants, occasionally vegetables and fruits (minimum). Herbs should make up 70-75% of the diet. Special dry food for turtles should not be given more than once every 2 weeks. Supplements of multivitamins and calcium are required.
In captivity, small turtles do not grow well, so it is recommended that they be fed animal feed once a week (a newborn mouse or part of a mouse if the turtle is still small). But on this issue, it is better to consult with the seller (breeder) of the turtle.


Sulcata requires a spacious dry enclosure. Turtles spend a lot of time in the sun. The UVI range for them is 1.8-3 average, 3.7-8.45 maximum (3-4th Fergusson zone). Daylight hours in summer – 13 hours, in winter – 11 hours. The daytime air temperature is 30-35 C with the temperature under the lamp (at the heating point) 45-50 C, and at night – 25-28 C. In winter, during the day, 28-30 C, at night – 18-22 C. You can achieve the temperature difference with the help of a powerful heating lamp. Ultraviolet lamp for reptiles (12-14% UVB with reflector) and calcium in the feed are required! It is advisable to walk the turtles under the real sun in hot weather.

Sand and hay can be used as soil. The soil layer should allow the turtle to burrow, it is important that the shell grows even, especially in young turtles. In the terrarium for babies, there must be a damp area with wet soil of sufficient depth for the turtle to burrow into it, then its shell will grow even.

A shallow body of water should be placed in the terrarium. The water level in it should not exceed half the height of the carapace of the smallest animal. It is recommended that young turtles be bathed regularly in a basin or bath. The frequency of water procedures is every 3-4 days for 10 minutes, but at least once a week. Adult turtles can be bathed in pallets so that at least their feet are in the water, every two weeks. In winter, this can be done less often, but in summer they need such procedures.

In summer, turtles can be kept in an outdoor paddock, provided that the weather is dry and hot. The pen should have a warm, well-ventilated (but no drafts) room where animals can be transferred at night or in cloudy weather. Put fresh hay at the bottom of the shelter. Also, the “bedroom” must be equipped with powerful infrared lamps. If the turtle does not want to go, it must be forced. The main problem is to cope with an obstinate monster with a very “lively and stubborn mass” of more than 30 kg.

The irresistible craving of animals for travel can also serve as a problem: if a turtle sees an object worthy of its attention, it can undermine or try to climb over the fence. Therefore, some owners recommend building a tall, opaque fence around the turtle pen. These turtles climb superbly, but when falling, a heavy tortoise can injure itself, and, falling on its back, cannot turn over.

Additional Information

  • Sulcata Tortoise grows very quickly, reaching impressive sizes in just ten to twenty years. Therefore, deciding to get this giant, think a hundred times where he will live with you. The turtle lives up to 80-120 years.
  • Turtles are very active and aggressive, pushing any object in the terrarium. If the turtle accelerates, it can break the fence or glass of the terrarium.
  • These turtles are very popular in zoos, petting zoos.


Alice White

Written by Alice White

Alice White, a devoted pet lover and writer, has turned her boundless affection for animals into a fulfilling career. Originally dreaming of wildlife, her limited scientific background led her to specialize in animal literature. Now she happily spends her days researching and writing about various creatures, living her dream.

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