All reptiles are cute and fascinating in their own ways, but there is nothing like the Horsefield Tortoise, especially as a pet. They’re also known as the Russian tortoise or the four-toed tortoise, and on top of being very sociable, they are small (around 15 to 25 cm) and can withstand a fair amount of cold. These qualities make them excellent for people who have never owned a reptile, specifically a tortoise, before. Their lifespan is even considerably long, ranging from about 50 to 75 years at times.
Tragically, some tortoises will die because many of the hopeful novice tortoise owners do not know how to properly house their animals. Besides common ignorance, pet stores aren’t helping the situation because many provide improper supplies such as glass aquariums and heat mats. A healthy habitat for one of these sensitive tortoises is not hard to create, it just takes time and great attention to detail. These animals are worth the effort.
Housing Indoors, Outside, or Both
Ideally, the enclosure for the Horsefield Tortoise would be outside. As long as the tortoise is safe from natural predators, it will be much happier in the outdoors. A good amount of space for this species is vital because they are quite prone to obesity in captivity. For the outdoor pen, a large 12-inch-deep pit should be dug and filled part of the way with gravel, then filled to the top with fine sand. These tortoises are unsuited for any damp soils or grasses, so the substrate (ground cover) should be kept dry and well-drained. The gravel will provide a fantastic drainage system for yards that lack the required soil.
The outdoor pen should be secure, meaning that the surrounding log roll or cement blocks should be tall and sturdy enough to prevent opportunities for digging out. To encourage exploration and foraging, the enclosure should be filled with edible plants, little caves, shrubs, sand mounds, rocks, and logs. These additions will allow the tortoises to thrive, preventing boredom, stress, and a stationary life. Also, the plants in the enclosure should be checked for pesticides.
Although tortoises tend to do better outside, indoor enclosures are sometimes required in colder weather. For this temporary use, a good-sized greenhouse should be made to resemble the standard outside enclosure. Tortoises should not be housed in vivariums (fish-tank types.) They require a lot of ventilation, which is not available in vivariums tanks. For long-term use, instead of a tank, an indoor pen (about 2 by 2 meters) should be used. Respiratory problems can develop if the air gets too humid or stagnant, which tends to happen in tanks, especially after the animal defecates and urinates.
The ground cover should be kept dry at all times. It should be at least twenty centimeters deep in order for the tortoises to dig “pallets”, which allow them to burrow at night in extreme temperatures and to prevent fluid loss. The surface should be scraped weekly and topped with material that’s fresh. After a few months, the entire substrate should be changed completely.
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In the wild, these tortoises usually get most of their water from the vegetation they eat. However, in captivity, they must be provided with a constant supply of fresh water. They can regulate the amount they take in on their own, so that isn’t a problem. The water bowl should be cleaned out every day, or at least whenever it starts to get a little dirty. Occasionally, maybe once a week, they should be put in a bowl of water separate from drinking bowl. This allows the tortoises to hydrate and relieve themselves in the water.
For hiding spots, the tortoises should have at least one fully enclosed spot and a few grasses or rocks to hide behind. Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, the fully enclosed hiding spot can be made out of relatively anything, given that it’s safe for the animal. These can be anything from a finished box of sealed wood and a hollow log to an upside-down storage container with an entrance. All hiding containers should have visible barriers, to ensure that the animals feel safe and secure in them. They can hibernate in these places, unless they live indoors because then they won’t follow the same seasonal patterns.
These animals are herbivores so they do not eat anything but vegetation typically. They can eat leafy greens, grasses, and the leaves and flowers of non-poisonous plants. There are food pellets made specifically for tortoise nutrition to give them a well-balanced diet. They tend to enjoy broad-leafed weeds, like dandelion and clover. A few foods that they should not be given are tomatoes, bananas, spinach, cucumber, and iceberg lettuce. Calcium is essential to keep their shells healthy, so provide calcium-rich foods or calcium tablets. Fruit it mostly unnecessary, and food should be scattered to avoid aggressive behavior during feeding.
Outdoor settings should be in places that get plenty of light, but not entirely direct sunlight. Indoor enclosures should be set up with several 48″ 48 watt full-spectrum, high-output UV-B tubes at a height of at a height of about 30 centimeters from the ground. They need heat for basking. A dark place should be provided for hibernation.
Basking Spot and Protection
In order for the tortoises to warm up, they need either a greenhouse, UV lights, or a very warm climate. A spot to cool off in is also essential, which is another reason by vivariums are not good for these animals because the temperature tends to stay the same throughout the tank. They need open spaces with plants and rocks as well as dark, warm places to hide.
Outdoor enclosures can include dirt mounds a few centimeters high for elevation, with a gradual incline. There should be no ditches left behind. These animals love climbing, so another idea is to add rocks. Scatter rocks of various sizes around the enclosure, making sure that none are too large for the tortoise to climb without falling.
For indoor habitats, a few simple mounds, made from the substrate, of about three centimeters will do nicely.
This is an extremely rewarding species to have around with great personalities, as long as they are kept healthy and happy.