If you own a tortoise, the odds are good that sooner or later you will need to move your pet outside. Most tortoises get too large for indoor enclosures and an outdoor enclosure can help provide your pet with the sunlight and access to food she needs to thrive. If you’re considering moving your tortoise’s habitat outside, here’s how to do it:
Building the Enclosure
There are many excellent tutorials available online and in books for building your own outdoor enclosure. If you’re less interested in spending a weekend sawing, hammering, and nailing, however, there are some simpler options for setting your tortoise up for a life outside. Wood garden boxes can be set up in less than a half hour, and many of these garden boxes are stackable, allowing you to create, high, escape-proof walls. Outdoor dog kennels can also be excellent options for creating an outdoor enclosure.
Whether you choose to build your own enclosure or buy something premade, however, safety is an important consideration. Tortoises are excellent escape artists, so you’ll need to make sure that the sides of your outdoor tortoise pen are higher than your tortoise can climb. Many tortoises will climb chicken wire and fences, so consider placing a net or fencing across the top of your enclosure as well. Giving the enclosure some sort of breathable lid will also keep your tortoise safe from birds of prey, cats, and other animals that could kill your pet.
Because tortoises can dig, you should also secure the bottom of your tortoise pen. This can be accomplished by staking your fencing several inches into the ground or by putting a base in your pen. If the bottom of your pen is solid wood, this completely eliminates the possibility that your tortoise should escape.
In the first few days after building the pen, monitor your tortoise and the pen for any danger zones. Look for holes, areas that your tortoise is digging, or sides of the pen that are not fully secured and secure them immediately or your tortoise may soon be gone!
Choosing the Location
Almost all tortoises live in warm climates with lots of sunlight, so it’s vital that your tortoise have lots of access to basking light in order to get sufficient UV light to metabolize calcium. Choose a sunny area of your yard.
Though tortoises need sunlight, tortoises can also overheat, particularly in very warm climates. Make sure your tortoise has an opportunity to thermoregulate by providing a shady area. This can be accomplished by putting a doghouse in the pen or building the pen in an area that is partially shaded. In very hot climates, be sure to monitor the temperature and your tortoise’s reaction to it to ensure that your tortoise is not overheating and is able to access a true temperature gradient.
Access to Food
Tortoises are opportunistic scavengers, which means they eat when food is available. The most natural way to feed your tortoise is to build a small garden in your tortoise’s enclosure. This allows your tortoise to eat in the most natural way possible and also cuts down on food costs and virtually eliminates food preparation. Be sure to avoid using fertilizers and other potentially hazardous substances, and make sure that every plant you eat is fully edible. Tomato fruit, for example, is edible, but the leaves are toxic, so avoid planting tomatoes and other plants with toxic components.
Most climates in the U.S. are not sufficiently warm for tortoises to live in year round. Further, many species of tortoises do not hibernate and, even when they do, hibernation can be risky and dangerous. Consequently, you must provide a source of heat or bring your tortoise inside during the winter months. Consider building a small shed or dog house with a large basking light and plenty of burrowing areas. In very cold climates or during very cold weather (30 degrees or below), even the best heat light may not be sufficient, so you need to be prepared to bring your tortoise inside temporarily if you cannot get the temperature in his or her enclosure warm enough. Completely covering the enclosure during the winter months and providing insulation in the form of blankets and lots of substrate can help heat to stay in the pen.
Access to Water
Just like with an indoor enclosure, your tortoise will need access to a water dish that is large enough for her to get inside of but not deep enough that she could drown. Water tends to evaporate more quickly outside and can also get dirty quicker, so be prepared to frequently check your tortoise’s water supply. Change the water at least every other day to prevent mosquito larvae, mold, and other health hazards from developing.
Building an outdoor tortoise enclosure doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. With a little planning you can build an ideal home for your pet and rest easy knowing that you’re providing the best home possible for your tortoise.
Turtles and Tortoises for Dummies
The Tortoise Trust