The African spur-thighed tortoise (not to be confused with the Greek
Tortoise), aka the Sulcata tortoise, is native to northern Africa, especially
Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, and Ethiopia.
They are a popular pet species in the USA.
THEY'RE BIG. African spur-thighs can easily reach 2-2.5 feet in
length and and weigh 100 lbs at maturity, so they must be kept
outdoors unless the weather is cool. They are flattish in size and
usually a monochromatic shade of brownish-yellow. Spur-thighs, as
the name would indicate, have a spur on the back of each of the rear legs.
This spur serves no observable function, as it is in the wrong place for
digging, climbing, and mating. Speaking of mating--they usually
don't get along well together, so you'd better keep each spur-thigh in its own
large pen if you want more than one. When they get large enough and stop
growing, write your name and phone number on the back of the shell with magic
marker, because there is a very high likelihood that your tortoise will
eventually dig out of your yard.
THEY LIKE WARMTH. They are most comfortable in temperatures
from 85-100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and about 70 degrees
Fahrenheit at night.
THEY LOVE TO DIG. I cannot stress this enough to anyone who is
thinking about a spur-thigh as a pet. We kept ours in a small dog run
next to the house and woke up one morning to find a tunnel system under
the foundation of our house--twenty feet laterally and three feet deep.
Spur-thighs come from the driest regions in Africa, you see, and by digging
such burrows they get closer to the water table, not to mention the capture
of more water. When keeping a spur-thigh as a pet, it is wise to not
provide an exorbitant amount of water, as this can cause skin and/or shell
infections and kidney problems. Just provide a low water dish that
your tortoise can climb into, but not drown in (tortoises don't swim, they
sink). It is also wise to provide a doghouse or trash can laid on the
side so that your tortoise will be less prone to digging. Keep your
hide slightly off ground and use a heating pad and insulation during
THEY LOVE TO EAT. Provide pesticide-free, insecticide-free grasses
and weeds, and to a lesser extent (10%-15% of total diet) green
vegetables--grass, clover, edible flowers (nasturtium, geraniums,
hibiscus, roses), and shrubs. Some human foods are also
okay--Romaine lettuce, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip
greens, grated carrots. Never feed your tortoise iceberg
lettuce. To give your tortoise treats, provide small amounts of
brightly-colored fruits (older tortoises only) such as skinless bananas,
cantaloupe (with rind), berries, strawberries, seeded/pitted peaches,
apples and apricots, oranges, and tomatoes. Spur-thighs are VERY
color-oriented--they will go directly for the bright red fruits (tomatoes and
apple peelings). However, once again--spur thighs can easily get
overhydrated, so keep these fruits in moderation. It is also wise to
provide a cuttlefish bone for additional calcium. Do NOT feed them
animal material, though--it is very unhealthy. Expect copious feces.
THEY START OUT SMALL. Hatchlings are only 1.5-2" in
length, and should be treated in the same way as their Mediterranean cousins
the Greek tortoises--the species are very similar, except that the African
spur-thigh's larger size gives it a greater dietary range.
THEY'RE EXPENSIVE AND FREQUENTLY ABANDONED. And, they'll live
longer than you will. You can buy a hatchling for about $60 in most
places, but it's a life investment--you HAVE to have an outdoor pen, you HAVE
to feed it, (as much as it will eat!) and you can't expect anyone to buy it from
you. Your local zoo will say "Yes, we have five or six of those,
and we're out of pens. Sorry!" So you'd better be sure you want
it when you buy or adopt it. That said, they are fun and unique animals,
despite their many housing and feeding demands.