How to Construct an Outdoor Enclosure for Sulcata Tortoises?

Sulcata tortoises, also known as African spurred tortoises, are amongst the world's largest species of tortoise. They are known for their unique needs and their spectacular size. If you're fortunate enough to own one of these remarkable creatures, you'll recognise the importance of providing them with a comfortable and stimulating environment.
An outdoor enclosure is an excellent way to provide your tortoise with the natural habitat it requires. Let's dive into the complete guide on how to construct an outdoor enclosure for your Sulcata tortoise while ensuring its safety and wellbeing at all times.

Choosing the Perfect Location for the Enclosure

The first step in constructing an outdoor enclosure for your tortoise is selecting an appropriate location. Opt for an area that is not prone to flooding or high winds, which could potentially harm your pet.

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The location should ideally have both a shady and sunny space. The sunny area will provide the much-needed warmth for your cold-blooded pet, while the shady spot offers a place to retreat from the heat during peak hours.

Consider the size of your tortoise before fixing the location. A mature Sulcata tortoise can weigh up to 200 pounds and requires ample space to roam around. As a rule of thumb, provide at least 10 square feet of enclosure space for every inch of tortoise.

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Constructing the Enclosure Walls

When it comes to building the enclosure itself, emphasis must be placed on the sturdiness of the walls. Sulcata tortoises are known for their burrowing instincts and their strength, so make sure the walls are robust and dig-proof.

Wood is an excellent material choice for the enclosure walls. It is sturdy, non-toxic, and provides a natural aesthetic that mimics the tortoise's habitat. You can use wooden planks or logs to build a wall that stands at least 2 feet high to prevent the tortoise from climbing over.

Additionally, you should also build a footer that extends at least 1 foot into the ground to discourage the tortoise from digging under the walls.

Choosing and Preparing the Substrate

The substrate, or the floor of the enclosure, plays a critical role in your tortoise's health and well-being. It should be able to hold enough moisture to maintain humidity, yet drain well to prevent standing water.

A combination of organic soil and a small amount of sand can be a suitable substrate for Sulcata tortoises. This mix mimics the tortoise's natural habitat and allows for burrowing.

Before introducing the substrate, make sure to remove any harmful objects from the ground such as sharp stones, toxic plants, or garbage.

Providing the Essentials: Heat, Food, and Shelter

Tortoises are ectothermic animals, which means they depend on their environment to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, it is crucial to provide a heat source in the enclosure so that the tortoise can warm itself during cold days. You can install a heat lamp in a secure location, ensuring it is out of the tortoise's reach.

Having a dedicated feeding area within the enclosure will keep the food clean and prevent the tortoise from ingesting substrate. You can use a flat rock or a low dish to serve food. Sulcata tortoises are primarily herbivores, their diet should include a variety of leafy greens, grasses, and hay.

Don't forget to provide a shelter within the enclosure where the tortoise can retreat during hot days or when it feels threatened. You can create a simple shelter using wood or even a large, overturned plastic tub with an entrance cut into it.

Adding Plants and Decorations

Adding plants and decorations to the enclosure not only enhances its aesthetic but also stimulates the tortoise's natural behaviors. Opt for plants that are safe for tortoises to eat, such as hibiscus, clover, and dandelion.

You can also add some rocks and logs for the tortoise to climb over, promoting physical exercise. However, make sure they are stable and won't topple over, causing injury.

Constructing an outdoor enclosure for your Sulcata tortoise is a rewarding endeavor that offers your pet a safe and stimulating environment. This dedicated space will not only cater to your tortoise's unique needs but will also allow it to exhibit its natural behaviors, contributing to its overall health and happiness.

Securing the Enclosure with Hardware Cloth

Safety is paramount when designing your outdoor tortoise enclosure. Aside from constructing sturdy and dig-proof walls, one way to ensure the safety of your Sulcata tortoise is by adding a layer of hardware cloth to the enclosure.

Hardware cloth is a sturdy mesh made out of metal wires. It's commonly used in gardening and animal enclosures due to its durability. This material will provide an additional layer of security to your enclosure by preventing unwanted animals from entering and ensuring that your tortoise doesn't wander off.

To secure your outdoor enclosure with hardware cloth, you can simply staple it to the inner side of the wooden walls. Also, it's recommended to bury a part of the cloth into the ground to discourage your tortoise from digging its way out. Remember, Sulcata tortoises are known for their burrowing instincts.

Moreover, the top of the tortoise enclosure can be covered with a layer of hardware cloth as well. This will shield your tortoise from predators such as birds and prevent it from climbing out. However, ensure that the cover does not block sunlight entirely as your tortoise requires it for warmth and vitamin D.

Maintenance and Regular Check-Ups

Building an outdoor enclosure for your tortoise involves more than just the initial construction. It also requires regular maintenance and check-ups to ensure that your tortoise is safe and healthy.

During your check-ups, look for any signs of wear and tear in the walls, hardware cloth, or the shelter. Check the security of the rocks and logs in the enclosure to ensure they won't topple over. Also, monitor the heat source and the temperature of the enclosure regularly. Your tortoise will appreciate a consistent temperature.

As for maintenance, the substrate should be cleaned and replaced regularly to prevent bacterial growth. Remember, a clean habitat will contribute to your tortoise's overall health.

Also, you should monitor your tortoise's behavior. If you notice any changes in its eating habits, physical activity, or general behavior, it could signal that something is amiss in the enclosure or with your tortoise's health.


Creating an outdoor tortoise enclosure takes time, effort, and a good understanding of the needs of your Sulcata tortoise. From choosing the perfect location to adding the right substrate, providing essentials like heat, food, and shelter, securing the enclosure with hardware cloth, and performing regular maintenance, each step is vital.

But the result is well worth it. Your Sulcata tortoise will benefit greatly from an environment that mimics its natural habitat and caters to its unique needs. This will greatly contribute to its happiness, health, and longevity. Constructing a tortoise enclosure is thus not just about building a space for your pet; it's about creating a home where it can thrive and live a fulfilling life.