Keeping a tortoise as a pet requires a basic understanding of this reptile's needs. This is not an aquarium pet. Tortoises need lots of space, as natural a habitat as possible, plenty of light and heat to thrive. Pet tortoises can be good companions and are fun to watch as they burrow and climb, but they are more difficult to maintain than some other domesticated animals.
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Keeping Captive Tortoises
Tortoises might be cute, but they are wild animals that require adequate space and care if you're going to keep one captive. Tortoises are ideally kept outdoors in an enclosure that closely matches their natural habitat. Those kept indoors need lots of space. An aquarium is not an ideal habitat for tortoises as the high walls inhibit air flow and they are not large enough for nearly all tortoises. Remember, too, that tortoises have very long lives, sometimes more than 50 years, so choosing to keep one is a long-term obligation.
If you live in a warm climate, you should be able to keep your tortoise in an outdoor habitat at least part of the year. This is preferable to keeping them indoors all the time. Start by building the habitat barriers. Concrete blocks work well. Tortoises dig against walls, so the wall should be very secure to make sure it doesn't fall on your pet. Sand and peat moss are good substrates to fill the habitat with. Make sure anything you put in the habitat is free of pesticides, which may kill the tortoise. Decorate the habitat with non-toxic plants and low boulders the tortoises can climb. Tortoises like grass and broadleaved weeds like dandelions. Keep a pan of water available to your tortoises at all times. Also, add a wood box with a door and window cut in it for the tortoise to hide in.
Indoor tortoise enclosures need much more attention than outdoor habitats. Try a turtle table, which is a large low-sided wooden box deep enough to keep the tortoise from climbing out. Choose bedding for your tortoise depending on whether it would naturally be in a dry or humid environment. Peat moss or coconut coir are good for tortoises that need humdity, while shredded paper or hay work for tortoises native to dry climates. Avoid sand, which the tortoises may unintentionally eat. Provide the habitat with UV light from fluorescent light bulbs to give the tortoise a warm basking place and keep the temperatures right for these reptiles. A 40- to 60-watt bulb works for most enclosures. Keep the lights on when it is daylight outside, and turn off at night. You won't need a heat source at night as long as your room stays above 15.6 degrees C.
Caring for a Tortoise
Tortoises are reptiles that need a heat source, light, food and water to survive. They are happiest when they have bedding they can burrow in. Tortoises like to climb, and they enjoy having a place in their habitat to hide. Tortoises are vegetarians and especially like leafy greens. Dandelions are a favourite, as are lettuce and cactus pads (which are available in some grocery stores). UV light is required for tortoises to process the calcium from their food, which is required for a strong, healthy shell. Baby tortoises are sometimes given calcium supplements.
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