Longterm Housing Arrangements for Breeding

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Hello friends,

I have my mind set on a group of 2 male and 4 female Forstens tortoises. My goal would be to breed them, so I would invest in females from 4 different lines and 2 different male lines, ideally.

I have experience with Kinixys, Manouria, and other reptiles, such as chameleons and bearded dragons, as a small sample.

I now live in SW Florida, where the climate is pretty well perfect for sub tropical and Savannah species, to live outdoors year-round, with some occasional heating, irrigation, and ample shade.

The reasons I’ve decided on this species are suitability to my climate for housing outdoors, personality, manageability in terms of size and available wild graze, and the need for increased numbers of breeding animals and successful breeding in captivity.

In my research I have run into various reports of them being aggressive during mating and possibly other times. Obviously each tortoise has a potential to be aggressive or not, but it seems prudent to account for this aggression and plan housing accordingly.
Some seem to let them sort out the aggression and keep them in large enough enclosures and claim eventually things settle down.
Other are adamant about housing them in solitary, only introducing them under observation and for breeding.

I try to imagine a compromise, where the tortoises can get away from one another visually and have space and resources for themselves, but could also have access to one another for breeding and occasional interaction, possibly lessening aggression during the times they cross paths.

I came up with plan for 2 12’x12’x4’ paddocks with a central divider that allow 2’ openings to get to what would essentially be 4 6x6’ sections per side.
Basically, take a 12’x12’ square and place a cross in the middle, but leave a small gap near the walls.

To my mind, this set-up allows for the tortoises to escape physically and visually, while potentially having more natural and occasional encounters. I used a similar method in breeding chameleons, where I divided 2 large enclosures with a large “soft divider” that gave visual interruption and the feeling of separation, but allowed the animals occasionally to cross paths and even swap the sides the male and female utilized as their side.

Ultimately, if things didn’t work, I would just divide the paddocks fully and allow for individual housing.
I welcome feedback and directions from those who have had success and paved the way.

I would also be grateful for any experienced keepers in Florida that grow graze for their animals year round. Are there any specific plants or species that you find easy to grow in Florida conditions, that these tortoises really enjoy? Any specific seed mixes you have found success with?

I’m fairly familiar with several FL plants and seeds, as well as ornamental plants. I’m also struck by our lack of chicory and dandelion and wondered if any of you South Florida folks were growing it longterm in our climate.

Thanks for reading this far!
 

wellington

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Instead of trying to house them all together and having the males fight, which they will. Make two sections totally separate and put one male with two females. Sight barriers should still be used, so the females can get away from the male.
 
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That is exactly the plan. Have 2 12x12 paddocks with a male and 2 females in each, but separated down the middle and with the cross piece for visual barriers.
Think a 24’x12’ rectangle. Divide that in half to creat 2 12x12’ squares. This divider is solid and keeps both trios separated so as to know which male is the sire of any resulting offspring.

In each 12x12’ square, there is a cross piece creating a visual divider, but with access to 4 6x6’ squares. The plan is to have the center divider open at small points near the wall to allow them to simply get away from one another, but still occasionally encounter and interact. It would be simple to close any section off to isolate any that couldn’t coexist for some reason.

I figured I knew this would work. I was just curious about others experience with this supposed aggression. Is it simply aggressive breeding attempts or are there ongoing attacks and tortoises chasing one another and making effort to choose conflict over avoidance, when given the chance to do so. I expected the aggression was down to 2 males, territorial females without enough space/barriers to eliminate territorial aggression between other tortoises, aggressive breeding seasons, and otherwise animals in confined spaces without the ability to get out of site of one another while still having access to food, water, shade, and basking. Essentially like you said, a male and 2 females, with ample space, planted and solid barriers, should eliminate these sorts of common “aggression”, which is really just animals reacting to having their territory invaded by other animals, when they are otherwise accustomed to infrequent encounters and quick interactions and just as speedy exits.

Thanks for the response.
 

wellington

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More than 2 females per male is usually recommended to avoid a situation where females get stressed from too much attention. I don't have personal experience of this but I have seen stories about males chasing females.
Never one female, two will work as it spreads the aggression, mating, between the two. More is always better.
 

Tom

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Very few people have any hands on experience with this species, or elongata either. I've always been interested in the Indotestudo and the only reason I don't have a whole gang of them is because my climate is all wrong for them. I've looked into their care extensively and talked to several people who have kept them long term and bred them. Here is what they all unanimously said: House them separately. Put them together for breeding, and then separate them again.

There is no compromise. Either they have access to each other, or they don't. Visual barriers, plants and furniture are all great, but if one can seek out and get to the other one, it will. I saw this with sulcatas in a huge 6500 square foot pen. I grew up a trio together and ended up with two males. I had to separate the males, and the other male would march the whole pen all day every day searching for the female who was constantly hiding from him. I had to make a separate pen for each of them. In a 144 sq. ft. pen, the other tortoises won't be hard to find. Some species do fine in groups, and other species demonstrate time and time again, that they don't want to live with others.

Based on the second hand knowledge of the species that I have gleaned, I would make two recommendations for you:
1. House them separately.
2. Make the pens MUCH larger than 12x12. I'd go at least 30x30, and 50x50 would be better if you have the space. I also prefer rounded oddly shaped borders instead of sharp corners and straight walls.
 
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Very few people have any hands on experience with this species, or elongata either. I've always been interested in the Indotestudo and the only reason I don't have a whole gang of them is because my climate is all wrong for them. I've looked into their care extensively and talked to several people who have kept them long term and bred them. Here is what they all unanimously said: House them separately. Put them together for breeding, and then separate them again.

There is no compromise. Either they have access to each other, or they don't. Visual barriers, plants and furniture are all great, but if one can seek out and get to the other one, it will. I saw this with sulcatas in a huge 6500 square foot pen. I grew up a trio together and ended up with two males. I had to separate the males, and the other male would march the whole pen all day every day searching for the female who was constantly hiding from him. I had to make a separate pen for each of them. In a 144 sq. ft. pen, the other tortoises won't be hard to find. Some species do fine in groups, and other species demonstrate time and time again, that they don't want to live with others.

Based on the second hand knowledge of the species that I have gleaned, I would make two recommendations for you:
1. House them separately.
2. Make the pens MUCH larger than 12x12. I'd go at least 30x30, and 50x50 would be better if you have the space. I also prefer rounded oddly shaped borders instead of sharp corners and straight walls.
This is the sort of thing that made me question my thinking. Some things need a little help to not be territorial and other things go on seek and destroy missions.

I think it may be more effective to house them separately, but it I do that, I can’t make the enclosures very much larger. I have to work with the shade and protection, proximity to water, and other concerns. I won’t keep any animal in its minimal space requirements. Most sources say a 4’x4’ area is recommended per Forstens. I much prefer 6x6’ minimum.

I’ll alter my current enclosure design to provide individual confines. I may try the soft barrier during breeding, in essence removing part of the partition between 2 enclosures to allow them access, rather than introducing one to another’s territory by force.

Communal keeping, in my case, wouldn’t make things easier, sounds like it just isn’t the way to go with this species and that’s okay with me. Its about the species itself, not the idea of my enclosure and theory I’m interested in succeeding with.

I really appreciate your response. It’s right to the heart of the question and addresses my concerns.
 

Tom

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This is the sort of thing that made me question my thinking. Some things need a little help to not be territorial and other things go on seek and destroy missions.

I think it may be more effective to house them separately, but it I do that, I can’t make the enclosures very much larger. I have to work with the shade and protection, proximity to water, and other concerns. I won’t keep any animal in its minimal space requirements. Most sources say a 4’x4’ area is recommended per Forstens. I much prefer 6x6’ minimum.

I’ll alter my current enclosure design to provide individual confines. I may try the soft barrier during breeding, in essence removing part of the partition between 2 enclosures to allow them access, rather than introducing one to another’s territory by force.

Communal keeping, in my case, wouldn’t make things easier, sounds like it just isn’t the way to go with this species and that’s okay with me. Its about the species itself, not the idea of my enclosure and theory I’m interested in succeeding with.

I really appreciate your response. It’s right to the heart of the question and addresses my concerns.
I like the idea of removable "doors" so that neither of them are thrown into unfamiliar territory when breeding time comes.

"Seek and destroy" is what I have been told about this genus. I hope you will share your experiences with us here over the years so we can all learn more about these wonderful tortoises.

Those minimum housing sizes seem absurd to me. That's like Petco selling 40 gallon aquariums with adult Russian tortoises. I have found over the years that most of the care info out in the world for tortoise care is all wrong. I would expect first hand care info for specialty species like these to be better, but it often isn't. Look at the tiny enclosures zoos use to house the island giant species of tortoises. Their adult Galapagos or Aldabra enclosures are smaller than my enclosures for smaller species in some cases.

This thread is for people new to the forum, not necessarily new to tortoise keeping. It will correct some of that old wrong info that you may have found out in the world. Questions and conversation are welcome. I would love to see you succeed and share what you've learned so that more people can keep and breed this fantastic species.

https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/info-for-new-people-please-read-this-first.202363/
 
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I like the idea of removable "doors" so that neither of them are thrown into unfamiliar territory when breeding time comes.

"Seek and destroy" is what I have been told about this genus. I hope you will share your experiences with us here over the years so we can all learn more about these wonderful tortoises.

Those minimum housing sizes seem absurd to me. That's like Petco selling 40 gallon aquariums with adult Russian tortoises. I have found over the years that most of the care info out in the world for tortoise care is all wrong. I would expect first hand care info for specialty species like these to be better, but it often isn't. Look at the tiny enclosures zoos use to house the island giant species of tortoises. Their adult Galapagos or Aldabra enclosures are smaller than my enclosures for smaller species in some cases.

This thread is for people new to the forum, not necessarily new to tortoise keeping. It will correct some of that old wrong info that you may have found out in the world. Questions and conversation are welcome. I would love to see you succeed and share what you've learned so that more people can keep and breed this fantastic species.

https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/info-for-new-people-please-read-this-first.202363/
That was a big read! Clearly you put some time into that and people really can get a grasp of things right off just from reading it.
As I was reading through your dietary suggestions, I noted the absence of Mazuri as a recommendation. I know many people have used it, but like you said of zoos, things work, because we choose to believe they do and nothing bad happens. The ingredient list of Mazuri is like feeding fish the lowest quality flake food, caged birds seeds only, or humans white wonder bread…..it’s all filler with added minerals and vitamins to compensate.

For this endeavor, I’ve opened for 6 12x4’ pens, with removable divides for breeding.

I have some projects to do ( planting a headge around the pool ), then I want to construct the tortoise habitat, then plant it, outside the paddocks will be areas of edible planting they can’t get too, but allow me to harvest for constant feeding, and then, I’ll start procuring the tortoises. I’m looking more towards the end of the year and first half of next.

I’m sort of in the research phase. Having kept and lived where eastern box turtles lived, having kept homes hinge backs, and raising a pair of Vic Morgan Manouria emys phayrei for a few years will give me a good baseline for the Forstens. The reason I don’t have any tortoises now is that I had several big life events, including getting married and moving 1000miles South West from home, some medical events, and 4 losses in my family. I have a home and an acre ( soon to be half and acre because I sold the other lot ) in a climate perfect for tropical species and I want to work with something again, now that I have the outdoor space and permanence to do so.

I’m lucky enough to be in zone 10a and outside any flood zones, with a dead end, residential lot, no HOA, and my lot is going to my neighbor, so I have an acre between me and the next house on either side. We don’t have people spraying and contaminating things or crime of any concern.

Where I am building the tortoise area won’t be visible from the street even and has the shade of 2 mature live oaks to create the perfect ambience and leaf litter, as well as being on an elevated pad, so there’s excellent drainage.

I’m looking forward to learning and sharing my journey here. I hope to start buying babies and/or juveniles by next Spring. If seller.I want CBB, and won’t be working with imported specimens, so it may take me time to acquire 6 unrelated animals.
 

zovick

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That was a big read! Clearly you put some time into that and people really can get a grasp of things right off just from reading it.
As I was reading through your dietary suggestions, I noted the absence of Mazuri as a recommendation. I know many people have used it, but like you said of zoos, things work, because we choose to believe they do and nothing bad happens. The ingredient list of Mazuri is like feeding fish the lowest quality flake food, caged birds seeds only, or humans white wonder bread…..it’s all filler with added minerals and vitamins to compensate.

For this endeavor, I’ve opened for 6 12x4’ pens, with removable divides for breeding.

I have some projects to do ( planting a headge around the pool ), then I want to construct the tortoise habitat, then plant it, outside the paddocks will be areas of edible planting they can’t get too, but allow me to harvest for constant feeding, and then, I’ll start procuring the tortoises. I’m looking more towards the end of the year and first half of next.

I’m sort of in the research phase. Having kept and lived where eastern box turtles lived, having kept homes hinge backs, and raising a pair of Vic Morgan Manouria emys phayrei for a few years will give me a good baseline for the Forstens. The reason I don’t have any tortoises now is that I had several big life events, including getting married and moving 1000miles South West from home, some medical events, and 4 losses in my family. I have a home and an acre ( soon to be half and acre because I sold the other lot ) in a climate perfect for tropical species and I want to work with something again, now that I have the outdoor space and permanence to do so.

I’m lucky enough to be in zone 10a and outside any flood zones, with a dead end, residential lot, no HOA, and my lot is going to my neighbor, so I have an acre between me and the next house on either side. We don’t have people spraying and contaminating things or crime of any concern.

Where I am building the tortoise area won’t be visible from the street even and has the shade of 2 mature live oaks to create the perfect ambience and leaf litter, as well as being on an elevated pad, so there’s excellent drainage.

I’m looking forward to learning and sharing my journey here. I hope to start buying babies and/or juveniles by next Spring. If seller.I want CBB, and won’t be working with imported specimens, so it may take me time to acquire 6 unrelated animals.
With the amount of space you have to dedicate to these animals, I would recommend getting half as many tortoises (1.2 rather than 2.4) so each animal could have twice as much of your available space. Or maybe get 2.2 in case one male is not a great breeder.
 
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With the amount of space you have to dedicate to these animals, I would recommend getting half as many tortoises (1.2 rather than 2.4) so each animal could have twice as much of your available space. Or maybe get 2.2 in case one male is not a great breeder.
Is this because 12’ x 4’ is smaller than you’d recommend for a single Forstens? What do consider an ideal enclosure size for this species? Are they known for being more active than other species or are they content to lay about and let life come to them? In my experience, the Manouria juveniles were fairly stationary, boxes a bit more mobile and on patrol, with hingebacks being mostly sedentary, but occasional lurkers.
 

zovick

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Is this because 12’ x 4’ is smaller than you’d recommend for a single Forstens? What do consider an ideal enclosure size for this species? Are they known for being more active than other species or are they content to lay about and let life come to them? In my experience, the Manouria juveniles were fairly stationary, boxes a bit more mobile and on patrol, with hingebacks being mostly sedentary, but occasional lurkers.
I haven't kept Forsten's Tortoises, but have kept (and successfully bred) Indotestudo travancorica, and they were not sedentary. The males I had moved about quite a bit, almost constantly walking the perimeter of their enclosures (which were about 76' by 24', by the way).

Certainly you can try your plan and see how it goes, but it seems to me that the six tortoises will be stressed by crowding in the spaces you have planned for them. That's just my opinion, though. I could be wrong.
 
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I haven't kept Forsten's Tortoises, but have kept (and successfully bred) Indotestudo travancorica, and they were not sedentary. The males I had moved about quite a bit, almost constantly walking the perimeter of their enclosures (which were about 76' by 24', by the way).

Certainly you can try your plan and see how it goes, but it seems to me that the six tortoises will be stressed by crowding in the spaces you have planned for them. That's just my opinion, though. I could be wrong.
That’s incredible! Good information. I would have never guessed them to be such active patrollers! I’m asking out of genuine curiosity to learn, not arguing for keeping them in smaller enclosures. I didn’t expect my intended enclosure sizes to be considered small by most standards. That’s why I do my research first and do things in stages. I would rather build something correctly and accommodating the first time.

Did you have CBB animals or WC? I wonder if animals raised in captivity and being used to smaller confines are less nomadic or if your experience with travencores is indicative of an active genus.
 

zovick

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That’s incredible! Good information. I would have never guessed them to be such active patrollers! I’m asking out of genuine curiosity to learn, not arguing for keeping them in smaller enclosures. I didn’t expect my intended enclosure sizes to be considered small by most standards. That’s why I do my research first and do things in stages. I would rather build something correctly and accommodating the first time.

Did you have CBB animals or WC? I wonder if animals raised in captivity and being used to smaller confines are less nomadic or if your experience with travencores is indicative of an active genus.
The original pair were WC animals collected by Dr. Walter Auffenberg in the Western Ghats region of India in 1958. There were a good number of CB offspring produced by that pair as well as by another pair of WC individuals I imported from Germany in 2006.

Those 2.2 adults and several of the original pair's CB daughters were sold to Mark Bell of Reptile Industries in 2008 or 2009 as a breeding group. If you know him, he can probably give you more up-to-date observations than I can. He still had them and was producing babies the last I knew.
 
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The original pair were WC animals collected by Dr. Walter Auffenberg in the Western Ghats region of India in 1958. There were a good number of CB offspring produced by that pair as well as by another pair of WC individuals I imported from Germany in 2006.

Those 2.2 adults and several of the original pair's CB daughters were sold to Mark Bell of Reptile Industries in 2008 or 2009 as a breeding group. If you know him, he can probably give you more up-to-date observations than I can. He still had them and was producing babies the last I knew.
I have decided to heed your advice and kept reading and researching. I’m reducing my original group to 1:2, possibly 2:2 and increasing the enclosure sizes to 12’x24’, with the potential to expand in population and enclosure size/number as I go. By planting trees and measuring the intended space, I have more working area than I thought. For now, I’m focused on 3, maybe 4 enclosures, and planting the areas inside and around it for shade and future expansion of the herd.

I want a well grown in and well built enclosure, with some hedges and small canopy trees in areas. It’s a project I’m going to work on and it will be a while before I get any tortoises. Hoping to have things grown in by Spring of next year.
 

Tom

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That’s incredible! Good information. I would have never guessed them to be such active patrollers! I’m asking out of genuine curiosity to learn, not arguing for keeping them in smaller enclosures. I didn’t expect my intended enclosure sizes to be considered small by most standards. That’s why I do my research first and do things in stages. I would rather build something correctly and accommodating the first time.

Did you have CBB animals or WC? I wonder if animals raised in captivity and being used to smaller confines are less nomadic or if your experience with travencores is indicative of an active genus.
All tortoises need larger enclosures than what is usually recommended. I keep smaller species in 8x28 enclosures or larger. Tortoises the size of an adult Indotestudo get 30x30 feet or more. I use 12x4' pens for little babies getting some sun time.
 

Ray--Opo

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Welcome, it's great you are doing your homework first.
I live east central in Florida. After trying some different pasture grasses bought online. I wasn't happy with the results. I went to my local feed and seed store. Figuring that they would sell the right mix for my area. I am very happy with the results. My sulcata will graze the area or sometimes I get the scissors and cut a big plate full. I will be trying to grow dandelion in raised planter boxes. I will let you know.
 
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All tortoises need larger enclosures than what is usually recommended. I keep smaller species in 8x28 enclosures or larger. Tortoises the size of an adult Indotestudo get 30x30 feet or more. I use 12x4' pens for little babies getting some sun time.
It’s been over 10 years since I kept Manouria emys phayeri and closer to 20 since I kept Kinixys homeana. What people are recommending and doing for their tortoises is amazing to see!

It’s unfortunate there are so few working with this genus. It seems those who work with CBB animals do keep them in conventional sized enclosures, vision cages and hydroponic bins for one breeder, which is why I assumed I was providing generous accommodations with my original post. Clearly others have experience and it’s noted that the species is active, feisty, and even aggressive, with adults utilizing, if not requiring a lot of space.

In the end, I have an entire back yard and can do as I please with the space. I’m starting with CBB babies, so it makes little sense for me to build permanent adult housing, for it to become weathered and abused by the Florida winds.

I’m going to map out the area, plant it, which means placing some shade and canopy trees where it is too open now, and use a modular enclosure that I can add on as needed. I think I’ll start the hatchlings in 16x16’ paddocks and keep it to 4 animals max in separate enclosures, until I get my feel for the species and what they need for space. I won’t be buying 4 at one time, either, so likely, I’ll have 2 unrelated CBB babies, each in 16x16’ enclosures of their own. I may also raise them to a larger size before they go in such large pens. I know the Manouria were much less afraid in a Christmas tree bin, until they were the size of a brick, and then they really were bold and enjoyed a corner of a fenced in outdoor enclosure, planted with lots of colocasia and tortoise seed mixes. I think the dimensions were something like 16x27’ for the pair of “bricks”. I had an unfinished basement, with block walls and cement floors, so I planned on keeping them in there for winter.
Kinixys, I had a group of 2:4. I kept them outdoors in 7x7’, pens in 1:2 trios and indoors I had an 8’x22’ indoor enclosure for chameleons that was planted and lit with UVB and basking, misting, and so on, so, they were in there for the winters.

Like I said, just like with betta fish, it’s obvious people are embracing more of what is optimum for animals in their care and not just what’s adequate.
I always strive to be above the minimum and at optimum for my pets. It looks like I might be settling for closer to adequate on space. I’ll make up for it with 9-10 months of the year with perfect outdoor temps and humidity, lots of wild and planted graze, sunshine, and being home to do plenty of observation.

I have a little less than 100’x100’ that could be totally enclosed and used for tortoise pens. I think I’ll be able to house 2:2 Forsten’s in their own pen and not have stressed or cramped animals in that foot print, especially raised from CBB babies, but I continue to learn and be open to correction. In the meantime, I’ll be getting some tortoise friendly trees, such as Mango, mulberry, and papaya, to get the shade growing for when I inevitably take over that space for the tortoises as they grow. Where I wanted to keep them originally and where I will start them is 16’ wide between the pool hedge and the oak trees. I want the shade of the oaks, but didn’t want to have to accommodate the trees through a wire roof of an enclosure, to prevent raccoon, rats, and squirrels from descending into the enclosed from their canopies.
I’m likely using pallets and lattice on both sides, with silt cloth at the bottom for visual barrier to the outside as walls. This is easy to maintain/replace and simple to add on and make adjustments. I’ll have additional perimeters around the walls where I’m growing additional forage and pollinator gardens, so it’s another enclosed space around the outer perimeter, if the enclosure wall were someway breached.
All tortoises need larger enclosures than what is usually recommended. I keep smaller species in 8x28 enclosures or larger. Tortoises the size of an adult Indotestudo get 30x30 feet or more. I use 12x4' pens for little babies getting some sun time.
 

Ray--Opo

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Not sure if the species you are interested in can eat fruit. I have a sulcata and fruit is a no no. Not sure if where you plant the fruit trees. The tortoises can get to them. If the fruit falls off the trees. I guess if you picked up the fallen fruit. It would limit how much fruit they would get.
If that species like cactus, you should plant some. I have plenty of cactus plants. They have never seen fertilizer or pesticides. If you want, I can send you some pads to get you started.
 

Tom

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Not sure if the species you are interested in can eat fruit. I have a sulcata and fruit is a no no. Not sure if where you plant the fruit trees. The tortoises can get to them. If the fruit falls off the trees. I guess if you picked up the fallen fruit. It would limit how much fruit they would get.
If that species like cactus, you should plant some. I have plenty of cactus plants. They have never seen fertilizer or pesticides. If you want, I can send you some pads to get you started.
All of the Indotestudo are similar to red foot tortoises in care, feeding and housing. They can have some fruit. Mushrooms and a little protein now and then are good too.
 

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