Rescued with question about hibernation

JackieJax

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I just rescued an African Spur from getting dropped off at a shelter, but apparently I'm out of my depth. This is my first tortoise. He's around 40 lbs and 5 years old. I am currently setting up additions to his habitat, as he doesn't seem to like what I created for him and he's choosing weird places in his new yard.

The original owner stated that he hibernates, so later this month he'll go into hibernation. Ive never had a creature in my care that hibernates.I did the research and I just keep reading that his breed doesn't. I live in Southern California. The weather is hot. LoL But soon it will start going down around the 50s and 60s. My questions:
1) Does he really have to hibernate?
2) If yes, any links for the proper outdoor enclosure for where it rains here and there, but doesn't snow and doesn't really get below 40°? (I created an area he could dig if he wanted to, but im afraid it might get muddy. I also have a large space under a patio cover that is concrete.)
3) If he does hibernate... how often should I check on if he's alive? Should I be worried in general? Do most of you miss your tortoises when they're asleep for 6 months?
4) If not, what do you think was going on with the original owner when he said he was? And what should I do instead?
5) Dumb question possibly, but do tortoises like baths? I groom all of my littles and I wasn't sure if I should give him a little bath, wipe his nails, little spikes, shell, etc. I over pamper, I'm one of thoooose people.

Spring and summer... totally got him taken care of and he seems to be getting comfortable in his new digs and enjoys tormenting the cats. But for fall and winter... I'm lost. :-(

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Tom

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Hello and welcome! As you've discovered, the care advice and understanding of this species is extremely poor out in the world. They come from an area of Africa that is always hot. They live 95% of their lives underground in the wild and most days all year long fluctuate between 90 and 118 degrees F. Ground temps in the region, where the sulcatas live, fluctuate between 80 at the absolute "coldest" time of the year, up to 85 at the warmest time of the year. Let me be very clear here: This species does NOT hibernate. Not in any way shape or form. Some ignorant people let them get too cold, and some of them manage to survive these wrong and potentially deadly conditions. Yours is lucky to be alive. And lucky to be in your hands now.

Your questions answered:
1. NO! This species does not and cannot hibernate. They are from the tropics. There is no cold period there. No "winter", as we know it.

2. They need a heated shelter for night and inclement weather. Here are two examples with different heating strategies. Dog house, deck boxes, and sheds don't work. I've tried all sorts of housing methods over the years and all those failed attempts have evolved into this:

Look at my signature line and take that to heart. Be wise. Learn from my previous mistakes. There is no easy short cut for housing. Resign yourself to building a box like this, or having one built for you. And don't try to use bulbs to heat it. You'll burn the top of the carapace. I see it all the time.

3. They don't hibernate. Moot question.

4. The original owner was ignorantly mistreating this tropical animal. Somehow the tortoise survived the mistreatment. I can't even count how many I've seen die this way. So many tears... And some of the people looked at me all teary eyed and said, "I didn't know...". To which I coldly answered, because I'm mad that they killed a tortoise, "Yes you did know. I told you. You just didn't want to do the work to house it properly. Now you've learned the hard way at the tortoise's expense!" From reading your first post, I already know this won't be you.

5. Tortoises benefit greatly from soaks. Not really a bath, but more like 30-60 minutes sloshing around in a tub. You can gently scrub them with a soft bristled brush if you want to, but this isn't necessary. The live in the dirt, underground, and they poop and pee in their own houses. Clean they are not. The BEST way to over pamper them is to grow all sorts of the right foods and spoil them with mulberry leaves, spineless opuntia pads, grape vine leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers, a wide assortment of the right weeds, and lots and lots of fresh green untreated grass. More ideas here:

You said you feel out of your depth. Don't worry. You've now found a community of tens of thousands of tortoise nerds. We will help you and walk you through every step of the way. Ask all your questions, and don't preface them with, "I know this might be a dumb question, but...". Your questions are not dumb, and there are likely dozens of other people reading that have the same question and will benefit from the answers you get. You are now among friends, and you have a whole community of people behind you to help with whatever tortoise related issues come up.
 

Tom

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More threads to help with the box building. A 4x4, like in the first thread I linked in the previous post is all you'll need, but you can build the 4x8' one of you prefer. I have and use several of both versions.

Hurry. Cold weather is coming, and this tortoise should not be dropping below 80 degrees at night. Respiratory infection is likely if this happens too many nights in a row. Because the other person got away with it doesn't mean you will. Preventing the illness is MUCH easier and less expensive than treating it after it happens.
 

JackieJax

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Hello and welcome! As you've discovered, the care advice and understanding of this species is extremely poor out in the world. They come from an area of Africa that is always hot. They live 95% of their lives underground in the wild and most days all year long fluctuate between 90 and 118 degrees F. Ground temps in the region, where the sulcatas live, fluctuate between 80 at the absolute "coldest" time of the year, up to 85 at the warmest time of the year. Let me be very clear here: This species does NOT hibernate. Not in any way shape or form. Some ignorant people let them get too cold, and some of them manage to survive these wrong and potentially deadly conditions. Yours is lucky to be alive. And lucky to be in your hands now.

Your questions answered:
1. NO! This species does not and cannot hibernate. They are from the tropics. There is no cold period there. No "winter", as we know it.

2. They need a heated shelter for night and inclement weather. Here are two examples with different heating strategies. Dog house, deck boxes, and sheds don't work. I've tried all sorts of housing methods over the years and all those failed attempts have evolved into this:

Look at my signature line and take that to heart. Be wise. Learn from my previous mistakes. There is no easy short cut for housing. Resign yourself to building a box like this, or having one built for you. And don't try to use bulbs to heat it. You'll burn the top of the carapace. I see it all the time.

3. They don't hibernate. Moot question.

4. The original owner was ignorantly mistreating this tropical animal. Somehow the tortoise survived the mistreatment. I can't even count how many I've seen die this way. So many tears... And some of the people looked at me all teary eyed and said, "I didn't know...". To which I coldly answered, because I'm mad that they killed a tortoise, "Yes you did know. I told you. You just didn't want to do the work to house it properly. Now you've learned the hard way at the tortoise's expense!" From reading your first post, I already know this won't be you.

5. Tortoises benefit greatly from soaks. Not really a bath, but more like 30-60 minutes sloshing around in a tub. You can gently scrub them with a soft bristled brush if you want to, but this isn't necessary. The live in the dirt, underground, and they poop and pee in their own houses. Clean they are not. The BEST way to over pamper them is to grow all sorts of the right foods and spoil them with mulberry leaves, spineless opuntia pads, grape vine leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers, a wide assortment of the right weeds, and lots and lots of fresh green untreated grass. More ideas here:

You said you feel out of your depth. Don't worry. You've now found a community of tens of thousands of tortoise nerds. We will help you and walk you through every step of the way. Ask all your questions, and don't preface them with, "I know this might be a dumb question, but...". Your questions are not dumb, and there are likely dozens of other people reading that have the same question and will benefit from the answers you get. You are now among friends, and you have a whole community of people behind you to help with whatever tortoise related issues come up.
Thank you Tom!!! You're so amazing!!! I thought it was super weird that he said he hibernated 6 months a year. I kept thinking that he could be a different breed, but unlike a dog or cat... so far it seems like tortoises are pretty easy to figure their breed out. I read your response and freaked out and took a couple hours from work and went down to Home Depot. I bought a few things to make a better shelter and to build the box you linked. He is currently using my dogs old dog house, a garden bed that I renovated a bit for him to use to dig in (he hates it so far. But I just bought more wood to maybe make him like it more. I'll post pictures when I'm done), and a little shed. However, he seems to like a rolled up gym mat I was going to throw out. I couldn't find him one day and after about an hour I found that he wedged himself in it. I got him out, but he keeps going back to it. Happen to know why? Ill post a picture. I dont think it's good for him, but I was thinking, maybe if I line it with the coconut substrate mat stuff, would that be okay?
 

JackieJax

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Thank you Tom!!! You're so amazing!!! I thought it was super weird that he said he hibernated 6 months a year. I kept thinking that he could be a different breed, but unlike a dog or cat... so far it seems like tortoises are pretty easy to figure their breed out. I read your response and freaked out and took a couple hours from work and went down to Home Depot. I bought a few things to make a better shelter and to build the box you linked. He is currently using my dogs old dog house, a garden bed that I renovated a bit for him to use to dig in (he hates it so far. But I just bought more wood to maybe make him like it more. I'll post pictures when I'm done), and a little shed. However, he seems to like a rolled up gym mat I was going to throw out. I couldn't find him one day and after about an hour I found that he wedged himself in it. I got him out, but he keeps going back to it. Happen to know why? Ill post a picture. I dont think it's good for him, but I was thinking, maybe if I line it with the coconut substrate mat stuff, would that be okay?

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JackieJax

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More threads to help with the box building. A 4x4, like in the first thread I linked in the previous post is all you'll need, but you can build the 4x8' one of you prefer. I have and use several of both versions.

Hurry. Cold weather is coming, and this tortoise should not be dropping below 80 degrees at night. Respiratory infection is likely if this happens too many nights in a row. Because the other person got away with it doesn't mean you will. Preventing the illness is MUCH easier and less expensive than treating it after it happens.
So for the night box. Every night I should be picking him up and putting him in the box. And then let him out to roam around when the sun is out?
 

Tom

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So for the night box. Every night I should be picking him up and putting him in the box. And then let him out to roam around when the sun is out?
He's going into the rolled up mat because these are burrowing animals. In the wild, and sometimes in captivity too, they will dig burrows that are just big enough for them to fit in, and use these to escape the temperature extremes on the surface, avoid the many African predators, and maintain a territory that they can defend foremother tortoises.

Once you get a proper box built, it will become like a surrogate "burrow" for your tortoise. You may have to put your tortoise in it every night for the first week or two, but they usually figure it out pretty quickly on their own. Once that happens you are on easy street. Then all you have to do is lift the top to make sure he's in it, and then latch the door shut for the night. Then open the door every morning, and he'll come out when he fells like it. Sometimes mine stay in it all day if they've had a good meal the day before and they feel warm enough.
 

JackieJax

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He's going into the rolled up mat because these are burrowing animals. In the wild, and sometimes in captivity too, they will dig burrows that are just big enough for them to fit in, and use these to escape the temperature extremes on the surface, avoid the many African predators, and maintain a territory that they can defend foremother tortoises.

Once you get a proper box built, it will become like a surrogate "burrow" for your tortoise. You may have to put your tortoise in it every night for the first week or two, but they usually figure it out pretty quickly on their own. Once that happens you are on easy street. Then all you have to do is lift the top to make sure he's in it, and then latch the door shut for the night. Then open the door every morning, and he'll come out when he fells like it. Sometimes mine stay in it all day if they've had a good meal the day before and they feel warm enough.

Update!!!

Finally got his box built and he's on night 3 of sleeping in the box. One night he decided to sleep in a dog house full of hay and the nights before that I had him sleep in a bedroom with a heater on. The box is insulted, has a thermostat and heater, and is pretty huge. I'll attach pictures. It took a few days to build, but he took to it without me putting him in it, so I think he likes it.

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Tom

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Looks good on the outside. How are you heating it? What does the inside look like? Are you going to paint it?
 

JackieJax

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Looks good on the outside. How are you heating it? What does the inside look like? Are you going to paint it?
I'm using an oil heater and I have a thermostat hooked up to it that should maintain the temperature for him. I'll take a picture once he wakes up and goes for his morning sunbathing/ roaming rounds. Im thinking of painting it, not sure what colors. Im horrible at making things pretty. Any suggestions?
 

JackieJax

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I'm sure he meant paint to protect the wood. Tortoise doesn't care even if it's sky blue pink!

Ohhhh hahahaha. I have the box under a patio cover and treated the outside with weatherproof sealant and some UV coating a gentleman at my local feed store told me to use. I didnt treat the inside of the box after I read something about tortioses being sensitive to smells in a different thread. Im still planning on painting the outside, just not sure what color yet

Sky blue pink sounds like an interesting idea however hahaha
 

Sarah2020

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Your having a fun and busy start! Your tortoise was using gym may because it felt dark and safe. Read the care sheets for substrate and other care tips and it will have a good life under your care.
 
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