How to Breed African Sulcata Tortoises


The African sulcata tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), which is native to North Africa, is the third largest in the world. It can weigh up to 200 lbs. and reach 30 inches in length. Sulcata tortoises would probably be critically endangered were it not for hobbyists successfully breeding them in large numbers in captivity. Its native habitat is vast and ranges from deserts to dry savanna. This means it needs plenty of space in captivity, particularly if it is to be bred.

  • Build a large enclosure for your tortoises, at least 10-by-10 yards, and ensure it has hiding places so it can retreat when necessary. Not much is required to stimulate the male's interest in the female. The male will chase the female around the enclosure until they mate. The mating takes place at any time of year, although regular breeders operate on a cycle.

  • Provide a 5-cubic-yard mound of soil for the eggs; this is crucial as the female will cause unsightly damage to the enclosure by digging several very deep holes, almost as a test run for the real nest. By placing soil mounds in the enclosure, you're making the job easier -- you'll be able to easily locate the nesting sites and recover the eggs when necessary.

  • Remove the eggs as soon as the female has finished laying; if you take too long, the female will bury them, which will make recovering them difficult. Ideally, place them in a reptile egg incubator, a readily available piece of equipment, which if used correctly will increase your overall hatch rate. Most incubators have an internal LED light, so you can keep an eye on the eggs.

  • Ensure the incubator is kept at a constant 86 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit. After about 88 days, the baby tortoises will start to emerge from their shells. They are tiny at first, giving little indication of their size as adults. As the young are quite picky about their food, feed them a reputable tortoise food. You can later progress to fresh fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis.

  • Feed the growing tortoises a variety of food as they mature, including cantaloupe, green leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce and grapes. Another favorite is cactus fruit, but ensure the hair is removed. Be careful of over-feeding your tortoises -- the fatter they are, the less likely they'll lay eggs. When they're between 6 months to 1 year old, ensure there's only between 11 to 14 young per box to avoid overcrowding.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't isolate baby tortoises; they are happiest with company and should ideally be kept in a small group.

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  • Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Valueline/Getty Images
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