Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. Tortoises are among the most popular of reptile pets, and many folks now realize the importance of a proper diet, UVA and UVB light, and heat. Yet many well-meaning tortoise enthusiasts continue to provide their pets with grossly inappropriate accommodations – a situation that is fueled by those pet store employees who recommend glass aquariums to first-time owners.
First of all, it should be understood that nearly all tortoises, even the smaller species, will grow too large, and are too active, for any but a room-sized indoor enclosure. So please plan ahead; the suggestions mentioned below are mainly suitable for hatchlings and youngsters. Only tiny species, such as the Padloper (Homopus signatus) or the Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo kleimanni, please see photo) can conceivably be kept in (huge) glass aquariums…and even then, ventilation is a concern.
Glass Aquarium Concerns
In addition to a lack of space, there are numerous other problems associated with glass aquariums. One of the most serious is the fungal and other respiratory problems that often arise due to insufficient ventilation.
Also, tanks usually remain at a constant temperature. However, in order to remain healthy, tortoises need a thermal gradient – that is, they must be able to move from hot basking sites to cooler areas, and most benefit from a dip in temperature at night. Other concerns include difficulties in providing a stimulating environment and in maintaining cleanliness.
Outdoor maintenance is ideal – but only if you live in a region with a climate similar to that of your tortoise’s natural habitat (or during seasons that are similar in climate)…temperature, humidity, light cycles and soil drainage are critical. Converting an indoor room is another option, as is a mix of indoor-outdoor housing (I’ve kept huge Spurred Tortoises outdoors during hot, dry spells in NYC, indoor otherwise – not ideal, but satisfactory).
In Part 2 of this article we’ll take a look at some commercially available small animal cages that can handily accommodate small tortoises. I’ll also introduce an easily-constructed enclosure that can provide ideal indoor accommodations for a great many species. Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.
Outdoor pen ideas from the Gulf Coast Turtle and Tortoise Society.
African Spurred Tortoises: Housing and other Challenges
Geochelone denticulata image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Geoff Gallice
Testudo kleinmanni image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Abrahami