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Desert Tortoise Care

Housing: A large, grassy yard is the preferred enclosure for adult tortoises.  A tool shed or an unused dog house can be used by the tortoises for shelter at night or during inclement weather and hibernation. Hatchlings should be housed outdoors only if they can be adequately protected from roaming cats, dogs and even birds (crows, ravens).  A protective structure for hatchlings can be constructed by making a wooden frame and spreading chicken wire over it.  This frame allows sunlight through but prevents predators from gaining access to the hatchlings.

Lighting: Hatchlings are best housed in a terrarium with a Vita-Lite (Duro-Lite Lamps, Lyndenhurst, NJ  07071) as the optimal light source for the first 3-4 years of life.

Water: A shallow pan of water should be provided at all times.  When hatchlings or adults are kept outdoors, one can periodically flood a depression in the yard to approximate the desert flood conditions. Turning on a sprinkler often stimulates the drinking response of the tortoises, probably because it resembles desert rainstorms.  Captive tortoises should be watered frequently. Feces should be picked up daily. Not only is this more hygienic, but it also reduces the fly population in the yard and greatly decreases the number of gastrointestinal parasite larvae to which the tortoises can be exposed.