Sulcatas Get Big. Fast.
Even if you do a crappy job caring for them.
©2006 Melissa Kaplan
It has been a decade since I wrote my Sulcata Tortoises article. Since the article was first published, more people got those incredibly cute little sulcata babies because they believed the pet store employee who insisted that they don't grow very fast, or the idiots out there who still insist that you can control reptile growth by keeping them in small enclosures, or who believe it is perfectly all right to starve giant species into slow growth rates.
And then there are all the people who got them because they just did not believe how big sulcatas get. They read the numbers
but still don't get it or can't visualize it.
Some friends of mine did not go out and get cute little baby sulcatas. They did, however, take in some that had been abandoned--dumped on a roadside to fend for itself, in the case of Texas one pictured below, and dumped on a chelonian rescue, in the case of the California one pictured below. Both sulcatas showed signs of having been improperly cared for prior to ending up with my friends, who undertook to care for them properly.
Here are growth and weight charts for three rescued sulcatas, including Buddy.
How are you and your husband doing financially? Your Aldabran is going to outlive both of you (100-150 years) - and possibly your children, too, assuming they are even willing to take over the care and keeping of your Aldabran once you two, er, leave this mortal coil. So, ignore the snickers of your attorney, and set up a trust fund for the care of your tortoise to ensure someone will care for it properly once you two are no longer around.
Practically speaking, it is likely that you are not going to be able to perform all the daily care tasks the tortoise will need for sometime before you die, and so you also need to start stashing away some money you can use to pay for someone to come in and provide the daily care. Of course, having the tortoise rules out moving to a smaller place. And what will happen if the one of you who survives the other ends up needing to live in an assisted care facility? You can't take the tortoise with you.
These elder care/financial responsibility questions need to be discussed with your children, too, if you are expecting them to take over the tortoise once you are gone or no longer able to care for the tortoise. And, of course, if your kids aren't married right now, or you don't have kids yet, whatever your kids do promise you may change if they end up getting married to someone who puts their foot down about this and refuses to be saddled with a "white elephant" weighing 100-200 pounds or more.
I haven't even touched upon the agitation and digging and scratching and ramming behavior of tortoises during breeding season or when they're bored, or just want to see what's over...there. No matter how smart they are, they just don't seem to get it that glass and walls are impermeable and so will keep scratching and pounding against them, trying to get outside on days when it is still too cold to go outside, or inside when they want to come in. With my 12" long 12-15 lb desert tortoise, this behavior is merely annoying, but okay so long as I get the sliding glass door closed before he tries to rip through the screen door (again). Better make sure any accessible glass (and floor-length mirrors) are thick and tempered - I'd hate to see a highly motivated Aldabran covered in shattered glass of any type.
Here's a way you can get a taste of what it will be like having one headstrong--not to speak of strong--Aldabran hanging out in your house or patio:
If, as probably will probably happen, since I'm guessing you aren't heating your home to the ambient air temperatures found on Aldabra in the Indian Ocean, your tortoise gets respiratory infections during the winter, are you prepared to administer necessary antibiotics, and increase the heating of your home so that it remains in the low to mid 80s day and night? Might want to calculate the cost of doing so before saying yes. You'll find an article on Calculating The Cost Of Electricity at my site.
You might also want to read my So, you think you want a reptile? article. The bottom line, especially when it comes to the giant species of reptiles or any other taxa, just because someone is out there breeding them and selling them doesn't mean they make suitable pets. When researching my article on sulcatas, I interviewed the man who first nailed down how to breed sulcatas in captivity and successfully incubate the eggs. He told me that, had he only realized what would result from the publication of his article--that people would use the information to breed the species for the pet trade, he would never have submitted his article for publication. The information is vital for zoos and researchers who need to know as much as they can to safeguard the species. But sulcatas, and other giant tortoise species, are at as much risk from pet owners who, despite all good intentions up front, really do not understand the scope of what they are taking on when they first buy that cute, little handful of shelled beauty.
Turtle Rescue of Long Island is, like a growing number of chelonian and herp rescues, ending up with dumped sulcatas whose prior owners didn't bother doing the research necessary up front, or decided that it didn't apply to them, or that "grow really fast" really meant "grows very slowly" and so they assumed they had lots of time before their sulcata outgrew their home and needed to be rehomeed (which is wrong on so many levels...). Check out TRLI's Sulcata Challenge for more information and photos.
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