Aldabra tortoises (formerly Geochelone gigantea, but now recognized as Dipsochelys dussumieri) are a tortoise that needs no special introduction. This majestic and massive tortoise is similar in size, look, and body shape to the giant Galapagos tortoises of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific, but with a less protected status, making them available to the public with no special permitting. They are a black and brown color with long necks for grazing grasses or reaching leaves and fruit off of short trees and tall shrubs. This is a well adapting tortoise that has proven to be hardy in a wide range of environments.
Originally from the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles (just North of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), this species is occasionally imported into the United States from farms in its native islands (collection from the wild is illegal). There are also a handful of tortoise breeders in the United States working with this species, and they are seen in many zoos, where reproductive efforts are taking place.
We keep our young Aldabras outdoors as much as possible if the nighttime lows are above 50, and the daytime highs are below 110. They need access to shaded areas, as well as something safe to graze on while outdoors. Indoors, we keep them in large containers or boxes where they have plenty of room to roam. We soak them at least twice a week in 2” of warm water for 30 minutes to allow them to get well hydrated. They are fed a diet that consists of grass, leafy greens, weeds, vegetables and fruits. As babies, they need softer foods they can tear apart, or foods chopped small enough to swallow whole. A water bowl is recommended in their enclosures, and should be cleaned very regularly.
This species enjoys the water and has even been known to swim from island to island in its natural range. Naturally, they live in a wide range of habitats mostly with high humidity, but they don’t seem to need high humidity in captivity as much as many other tropical tortoise species do. Natural sunlight is best for tortoises of all ages, but if the Aldabra is kept indoors, it needs to be supplied with a source of UV-B from its lighting. It should also have as a spot bulb that will allow the tortoise access to an area where it can reach a temperature between 90 and 100 degrees if desired.
This amazing tortoise is arguably as large as any tortoise on earth (depending on the definition of “large”) with males averaging nearly 48” in length and 550 pounds (with a tortoise currently in captivity in Texas weighing in at nearly 800 pounds). Females are somewhat smaller, topping around an average of 350 pounds. This tortoise has been thought to live well over 200 years, with a few living specimens nearing the 200 year old mark. Some of these tortoises were captured in the wild (as adults) in the early 1800’s, so their exact age is unknown. A lack of good recordkeeping from their early days in captivity has shaded the details behind the lifespan of these tortoises.
It is obvious that you need access to a good sized yard where it can be maintained most or all of the year. This is not a tortoise built for cooler climates, as it’s simply not reasonable to house it correctly indoors. This tortoise appreciates moderate to warm temperatures. It will thrive outdoors in the warmer states if plenty of cooler retreats are provided, and some level of humidity maintained. Shallow ponds and mud holes are a big plus for this species, as they love to soak in them. Adults can be kept outdoors at more extreme temperatures than the babies, as long as they are provided heated hideboxes in the winter months. Juveniles and adults can be maintained outdoors all summer in hot climates (up to 115-120) if they’re provided with plenty of shade and water for cooling off.