Sulcata tortoises (geochelone sulcata) are probably the most commonly kept tortoise in captivity. Also known as “African spur-thigh tortoises,” these easy to keep giants are personable, beautiful and make a good starter tortoise.
Originally from central and Northern Africa, this species is no longer imported into the United States. Any young sulcatas in the US are captive bred and born, and with it’s natural habitat being overused or overrun by humans and livestock, it's natural populations are fading quickly. This is a tortoise that has had a remarkable population boom in captivity in the United States due to it's ease of upkeep and breeding.
We keep our baby sulcatas outdoors in secured enclosures as much as possible when the nighttime lows are above 50, and the daytime highs are below 100. They need access to shaded areas, as well as something safe to graze on while outdoors. Indoors, we keep them in large, short plastic containers on a cypress, dry hay or grass substrate. We soak them at least twice a week in ¼” of warm water for 30 minutes to allow them to get well hydrated. They are fed a diet that is high in fiber and low in protein (grasses, dandelions, leafy greens, cactus pads, etc). Fruit should generally be avoided with this grassland species, as well as anything with a high amount of protein. They are a fast growing species, and will need light calcium supplementation occasionally with their meals. Standing water is optional, but not needed as long as they are getting regular soakings.
Natural sunlight is best for tortoises of all ages, but if the sulcata 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 85 and 95 degrees if desired. This is a species that likes intense lighting, so don't skimp on the heat or the light quality.
The adults of this species have the ability to grow very large (third largest tortoise in the world) with some large males reaching 30” long and well over 100 pounds. You will eventually need a large sized yard to house it where it can be maintained most or all of the year. In colder climates, you will need to have indoor accommodations since this is not a hibernating species. This tortoise enjoys low humidity and high temperatures as an adult, although it has proven to be extremely adaptable. Because of a large eventual size, it would probably not be the best choice for the coldest parts of the country. It will thrive outdoors in the desert climates of Southwestern states, and through the Southern 1/3 of the United States. Adults of this species can handle lower and higher temperature extremes than babies.
Sulcatas turn into large tortoises. Many of them are purchased as cute babies and then they grow to be quite a handful after 5-10 years. Please choose another species if you're not prepared to handle a large tortoise that can potentially do damage to your yard through it's immense size and strength.