30 yr old Desert Tortoise sleeping outside for the first time

JudyR

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Hi everyone. My mother lives in Tucson and has 3 old desert tortoises and I wonder if they will be ok if they bromate in a burrow all winter. In the past my dad would put them in banker boxes with dirt, ripped newspapers, etc and then stack them in a dark corner of their back patio and they were fine until spring. My father passed away 2 yrs ago and last year I was able to catch them and get them into their boxes. This year 1 of them made its way to where the boxes were usually stored and has gone into hibernation so, my mother boxed that one. The other 2 are no longer leaving the burrow. Will they be ok if they spend the winter in a burrow or should we get them out? They are close to 30 years old.
 

JudyR

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The night temp in tucson is now in the low 50’s so they are probably out until spring.
I was hoping for some advice because Their burrow is deep into a neighbor’s property and i would rather not dig up their yard if i don't have to.
 

LaLaP

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I'm no expert so hopefully someone else chimes in but I know that one of the dangers of letting them brumate outside is that their burrow could flood and they could drown. Do you get much winter rain? Does it seem like the burrow is built in a way that would be prone to flooding? Could you protect the entrance somehow?
 

Tom

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Hi everyone. My mother lives in Tucson and has 3 old desert tortoises and I wonder if they will be ok if they bromate in a burrow all winter. In the past my dad would put them in banker boxes with dirt, ripped newspapers, etc and then stack them in a dark corner of their back patio and they were fine until spring. My father passed away 2 yrs ago and last year I was able to catch them and get them into their boxes. This year 1 of them made its way to where the boxes were usually stored and has gone into hibernation so, my mother boxed that one. The other 2 are no longer leaving the burrow. Will they be ok if they spend the winter in a burrow or should we get them out? They are close to 30 years old.
I wouldn't do either of the things you've asked. Down in their burrows, subject to the whims of Mother Nature, often leads to their death. If the burrow is deep enough to prevent temperature extremes in both directions, and it doesn't flood or collapse, and if rodents or ants don't get to them, if if if, they can survive outside.

Putting them in boxes on the back patio is also not a good idea. Above ground temp swings are really bad for them and the daily highs in the 80s, or cold winter nights in the 30s, are not good for them. Obviously, as you've seen, they can sometimes survive this way, but again, its not "good" for them, and many die this way.

If you want to hibernate them safely, you need some means of keep them cold, dark, and the temperature needs to be a steady 45-50F all winter long, with little variation. In the wild, they would be deep underground and there would be no temperature variation on hot sunny winter days, or cold freezing winter nights.
 

Yvonne G

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Your area probably IS in the desert tortoise's home range, but there are just so many variables to allowing them to brumate outside, weather-wise. Here in my area we have too much rain to allow it. If they get wet while they're cold, it could be a death sentence for them. My favorite place to brumate tortoises is in a chest type freezer (disconnected, of course). The freezer is well insulated, so once the temperature stabilizes, it barely fluctuates with the day night outside temperature.
 

Ciri

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I'm in Tucson and have a desert tortoise who's four years old. I hibernate him outdoors every winter under the direction of my reptile veterinarian. I had an adult desert tortoise for several years before this one, and hibernated him a outdoors in his burrow with no problems. I also know other people here hibernate their desert tortoise outdoors. The tortoise burrow is a great place for them to hibernate provided that rain water and pack rats cannot get in. Soil stays a nice even temperature for hibernating. Desert tortoises live in areas surrounding Tucson. So this is their native habitat. What I've done in the past to give me peace of mind when I was concerned whether it would be the best temperature, was I placed a temperature gauge inside. My veterinarian has recommended that they can hibernate in temperatures 32° –62°. Good luck with your little ones.
 

JudyR

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Thank you for all for the advice. I will be making a trip to Tucson next weekend get them out and store them properly for the winter. I will have my Mom speak to the neighbors about digging in their yard.

My Mom is 85 and my Dad was way more invested in their care than she is.....I think it may be time to find them new homes in the spring.
 

Ciri

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The Desert Museum has a great program for adopting Desert tortoises–as I understand you can drop them off there. I think you can also Drop them off at dr. Jim Jarchow's Office at Orange Grove animal hospital which is near I-10 and Orange Grove Road in Tucson. He's a very good reptile veterinarian. I suggest you call and ask them first.
 

bioteach

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Hi everyone. My mother lives in Tucson and has 3 old desert tortoises and I wonder if they will be ok if they bromate in a burrow all winter. In the past my dad would put them in banker boxes with dirt, ripped newspapers, etc and then stack them in a dark corner of their back patio and they were fine until spring. My father passed away 2 yrs ago and last year I was able to catch them and get them into their boxes. This year 1 of them made its way to where the boxes were usually stored and has gone into hibernation so, my mother boxed that one. The other 2 are no longer leaving the burrow. Will they be ok if they spend the winter in a burrow or should we get them out? They are close to 30 years old.
We lived in Tucson for many years before moving to Phoenix. Our tortoise was just a hatchling when we got him as a rescue. He has always had a burrow and gone under for the winter - even his first year. We did have him in a protected enclosure close to the house so it never got too cold because the adobe block wall retained a great deal of warmth.

Anyway, we followed nature's lead and let him do what came naturally to him. He thrived and grew up to be a very healthy little guy. It sounds as though your adult tortoises have decided to take the natural route. Ours is already under as well, even though it is warmer in Phoenix than Tucson.
 

CocoAZ

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The night temp in tucson is now in the low 50’s so they are probably out until spring.
I was hoping for some advice because Their burrow is deep into a neighbor’s property and i would rather not dig up their yard if i don't have to.
If they have a burrow that they have dug, and it’s deep, they are probably safe unless for some reason there is flooding issues when it rains. If their burrow gets flooded with water then they could drown. That said, It’s a judgement call on your part. I have always put my guy in a safe spot like your dad but mostly because I’ve had Coco since the day he was born and I’ve moved several times.
 

Dovey

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My thought is that if their burrows do not flood during monsoon, they are not likely to flood during Winter rains, which are far lighter. Don't know about your situation with other wildlife. I would be concerned about pack rats in my own circumstances. We have a lot of them.
 

CeciliaCornwall

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We lived in Tucson for many years before moving to Phoenix. Our tortoise was just a hatchling when we got him as a rescue. He has always had a burrow and gone under for the winter - even his first year. We did have him in a protected enclosure close to the house so it never got too cold because the adobe block wall retained a great deal of warmth.

Anyway, we followed nature's lead and let him do what came naturally to him. He thrived and grew up to be a very healthy little guy. It sounds as though your adult tortoises have decided to take the natural route. Ours is already under as well, even though it is warmer in Phoenix than Tucson.
do you notice yours coming out for warm days? We put ours away but it’s going to be so warm this week in Phoenix that I feel like they should come out again!
 

Dovey

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I haven't put mine away yet. I live in New River, north of Phoenix, at about 2000' elevation. I am still probably a month from putting him away. Currently, he is interested in eating the dandylion seedlings that are coming up everywhere in his outdoor habitat, but I bring him in in the evening as temperatures fall. I'll cut off the feeding two weeks before brumation begins, and plan to brumate him in a fridge. Our garage warms up too much each day and is full of packrats. Country living, yeah? He gets a soak every other day, as he is still small, about 6 inches.
 

CeciliaCornwall

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I haven't put mine away yet. I live in New River, north of Phoenix, at about 2000' elevation. I am still probably a month from putting him away. Currently, he is interested in eating the dandylion seedlings that are coming up everywhere in his outdoor habitat, but I bring him in in the evening as temperatures fall. I'll cut off the feeding two weeks before brumation begins, and plan to brumate him in a fridge. Our garage warms up too much each day and is full of packrats. Country living, yeah? He gets a soak every other day, as he is still small, about 6 inches.
Very good to know! We put them back out today since temps are back up. We’ll keep putting them in for cold nights until they’re ready to be put away for the winter. Appreciate your input!
 

hollygollygee

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My parent's tortoise always hibernated outdoors and has been since the 1980's. The burrow has never flooded, but I imagine that has something to do with placement. My father initially made a burrow so placement and flooding issues were likely considered at the time. It is definitely in a high spot in the yard and sort of mounded so that the burrow entrance is higher than any surrounding area and sheltered and angled so that water can't just fall into the hole. He (the tortoise) dug the burrow deeper into the ground over subsequent years. They currently have him in a box for hibernation because they just moved. My father had a time getting him out of the burrow because it was so deep. They are now trying to figure out rehoming since they will no longer have a tortoise yard or even be in AZ anymore come spring. But yeah, the tortoise always hibernated outdoors in Phoenix.
 

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