Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: May 2008



May 30, 2008

Tortoise Leash

Wow! A sulcata leash! I kid you not! I was taking Frankie on a walk around the neighborhood yesterday evening. During any walk there are always problem areas where Frankie will not walk in the direction I want to go. I have to use my foot to guide him by either putting it under his carapace just behind his front leg and lifting him to move him in the new direction. Or, I can put my foot just enough in front of him that he is forced to re-direct himself.

The second method of putting my foot slightly in front of him usually means I will be stepped on, sometimes painfully depending on where he puts his foot. My foot was already bruised and still healing from our weekend walk (five days ago) and I wasn't looking forward to using this technique.

By corner #5, the top of my foot was getting sore. I didn't want to put him on the skateboard because we were heading up a very steep hill. But a thought came to my mind - why not try using the luggage strap? So I put it around his carapace just behind his front legs and ta-da! a sulcata leash. By holding the leash I could guide him left and right in the direction I needed without using my foot.

Oh, did I say it was easy? When is anything easy with a 48 pound sulcata? Guiding Frankie turned into a tug of war and I will say we almost were equal in strength -- but I won out. It does need some work.

The luggage strap cost me $1.50 at Wal-Mart.

It must be an unusual sight - a big tortoise on a leash

May 27, 2008

Basic Need to Walk

When I read information about sulcata tortoise I think one of the most overlooked behaviors is their need to walk. One may read that the sulcata in its natural environment can walk five to eleven miles (depending on the source material) and has a territory of about five miles (again depending on the source material). In its natural environment, they walk great distances to get to fresh grazing areas and to their water sources.

Rarely does this behavior translate into recommended husbandry. I noticed that very few sources emphasized the need for the sulcata to have ample space to walk around. Authors note that sulcata pace, they note that they will try to get through fences but few get the reason why.

Off hand I cannot think of another animal that needs to walk as much as sulcata tortoises do. Many animals need space and exercise like horses and dogs. But the sulcata as a built in instinct to walk.

How do I know this? Besides evidence of natural behavior, I observe Frankie's all obsession to walk. When I take him out to walk, Frankie is on a mission. He doesn't seem to need to "get somewhere" but rather a need to just walk. He easily walks one mile with me and if I had the patience (it takes a good hour and fifteen minutes to walk a mile) he would go a full second mile and maybe more. During his walks, he is not distracted by much. Yes, Frankie will stop for a dandelion, but he really loves dandelions. He stop for hardly anything else, including children standing in the way.

I think that many many sulcata are spiritually broken in captivity because they are not allow to walk and are kept in small spaces. The worse cases are those sulcata kept permanently in basements or tubs. Their spirit is broken, their muscle atrophy. I have also seen some rescued sulcata stare amazingly at the great outdoors for the first time in their life.

Sulcata are not the kind of tortoises that should be kept in basements. They should not be kept in small yards. They should have the space to walk.

If you love your sulcata, take him on a walk. You will be amazed.

May 25, 2008

Taking Care of Frankie

One of the sad aspects of approaching summer months is Frankie spends all his time outside. I don't get to see him first thing in the morning when I water the geckos at 7:00 in the morning. I usually don't see him until almost 9:00 am when he finally comes out of this outdoor house to do his morning bask. When I work with the geckos Frankie is outside all day. And I don't see him each night when I water the gecko. But Frankie loves to be outdoors and that is where he is most happy.

As the day gets hot, Frankie sits under the patio and stairs which affords him both good shade, a breeze from the AC unit, and a good view of the whole yard. When he is under the stairs I cannot see him unless I go all the way downstairs. When he his under the porch I can see him through the breaks between the wood.

The patio has a canopy and bug screen so I can spend more time out there even when it is hot. It must be a funny sight to see a human sitting on the patio looking over the yard and sitting on the ground directly under the human is a sulcata tortoise also looking over the yard.

I do enjoy tucking Frankie in every night. When he goes in his home for the night I go out each evening and open the top to check on him. I rearrange the hay so he is snug. If the plastic flaps are in disarray I will fix those up so there is no drafts.

Maybe its nice that the routine I have caring for Frankie changes with the season. I can enjoy the differences that each season brings.

May 23, 2008

Happy World Turtle Day

Do something nice for your turtle.

Frankie got an extra carrot and all the turtles and Frankie got to sleep inside last night.

May 20, 2008

Fence and Yard

Today I worked on turtle yard and fences. Really had to work myself up for the job. I've been a bit allergy sensative lately so I was afraid that getting outside and cutting grass would set me up for a major attack. So, before opening the door, I put on a allergy mask to help a bit. And it did help.

I first got outside and mowed Frankie's yard. First time I've mowed his yard in almost a year and a half. I usually weed whack. Mostly because our old lawn mower was very heavy and even with its motor driven wheels, it really wore me out. This time I used the lawn mower we bought last fall. It made mowing Frankie big yard much easier. I mowed at 8:00 am when Frankie was still in his house not yet ready to get up for the day.

I managed to pick up the mower into the box turtle area. The grass was so high there that I was getting chiggers (lawn bugs that get under skin) on my legs. I don't like to mow in the box turtle area because I am always afraid there will be a baby turtle somewhere. But I mowed only in the center area - no baby turtles around. Then the mower ran out of gas. Decided that was a sign to stop. But basically the back yard and box turtle area was well mowed.

I then installed plastic garden barriers on one of the chain link fences to see if it would keep Frankie from pacing the fence. I cut the plastic into two pieces and attached them to the fence one on top and the second underneath. That gave height to the barrier to keep Frankie from seeing the other side.

After watching Frankie the rest of the day, the barrier worked. He ignored that area of the fence and instead paced in the area where there was no barrier. So, I think I will do the same on the reminding chain link fence.

What did I do the rest of the day -- recovered!

May 18, 2008

Do Dah Day Pet Parade

Frankie did fantastic at Do Dah Day Pet Parade! Frankie walked the entire parade making it past the judges and to Do Dah Day's official site at Rhodes Park. THEN Frankie walked the entire way back to the car. By the time we got back to the car, Greg and I were exhausted and barely standing. When we got home Frankie was ready for another walk. Me? I need chocolate, a big glass of ice tea, a foot massage and a two hour nap.

Along the route, people who recognized Frankie from the last two parades where yelling "Frankie! Frankie! Frankie!" Frankie stopped for nothing. When he gets walking he is in the "Zone" looking dead ahead and never missing a step. Well, except for the occasional carrot and anyone with those orange Croc shoes!

Regretfully, we were running late and forgot our camera. We rely instead on other's photos. Here is a link to one:

May 16, 2008

Caught in the cold rain

Its been a little rough here for the last couple of days. Temperatures are into the 70s but no sun. Yesterday it rained from 8:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon. Although the box turtles stayed out the night, I finally bought them in around 11:00 am when the rain got heavy and they were heading into the highest area of their enclosure.

Frankie was out for the night and all day yesterday. He sat with his head out his door watching the rain. I felt pretty bad for him. I brought him a handful of grasses and weeds (and got soaked in rain because of it). Regretfully, by 6:00 pm Frankie was so cold he wouldn't even back up fully inside his enclosure (this can happen to sulcata and it is a very dangerous situation). I dragged him back inside his enclosure and tried to get the heater to come on. I mess something up and it wouldn't come on so I made the decision to drag Frankie inside the house to get him warm.

Since he would hardly move, I did have to drag him partially across the grass to get him closer to his wagon. Once in the wagon I got him into the garage. Then I put him on his skateboard (wagon can't get around the car) and dragged him into the gecko room. Still he was too cold to get into his indoor night box. So I pushed him to the front opening. Frankie managed to get himself inside. (Just one mention as to how badly my back aches today)

This morning he was awake when I went to water the geckos at 6:45 am. At 7:00 when I was finished I stopped by to check on Frankie again and he was asleep. I really hope he doesn't get sick. Tomorrow is Do Dah Day Pet Parade and I have really looked forward to bringing him there. I will be back down in the gecko room to feed in a couple of hours and think I will put Frankie on top of his other heat pad.

May 12, 2008

Bravo Boxies

I have neglected to mention a very special box turtle event: Brown Eyes laid three eggs last week. Two eggs are doing very well and one continues to get a dent no matter how damp I keep it. Although its been more than a year since Brown Eyes was around my male, Bama, box turtles are extremely efficient sperm retainers so it is very possible for all the eggs to be fertile.

I have the eggs buried 90% in organic soil. The container with the eggs is kept in the gecko room. I check it several times daily while doing my regular gecko chores.

Also neglected is an update on Pumpkin, the juvenile box turtle. Pumpkin is doing so very well. She is very well shaped and is now getting some height to her carapace that is normal to adult box turtles. I have not always done as well with juvenile box turtles as I have with Pumpkin. Some juveniles in the past have not had this beautiful shaped carapace as Pumpkin has so I am happy that I have done better by her. Its also time to get her a bigger enclosure and to spend time outside in the sun.

Greg and I had fresh strawberries for desert last night so the box turtles got strawberry tops for breakfast plus an over ripe banana. Soon I will be downstairs getting the same strawberry and bananas to Pumpkin. Pumpkin has shown little interest in anything but worms and insects so I think it is time to start adding veggies and fruits to her diet.

A final note: I am going back and fixing all the images in the blog. So far I have most of 2007 fixed. It will take several months to get everything fixed.

May 11, 2008

Do Dah Day Considerations

One week to Do Dah Day Pet Parade! Frankie is in full time training! We walked at the Leeds Park Walk Track. Did good time. Still having problems with those curves. I guess it is just a sulcata thing. But the weather was good so we never got too hot. I brought a water container just in case along with his skateboard.

I need to do some work on the skateboard. Still working on a way to tack down the rubber cushion to the skateboard top. It really needs the cushion to keep Frankie from scratching his shell on the rough skateboard surface and to help keep him on the skateboard (he slides off). Tried hot glue and a heavy duty construction glue but neither sticks to the skateboard surface. Greg is suggesting that I cut a plywood board to fit the top of the skateboard, drill the board to the skateboard and then glue the rubber surface to the plywood. Gee, lots of work when Greg doesn't like me near power tools.

Still working on logistics -- do I walk alone with Frankie, do I find a friend to go, should Greg drop us at the start and then meet us at the other end? All things to be figured out. Greg shouldn't walk because of his bad foot (in physical therapy). Greg did manage to walk in the Walk for Autism but we probably walked less because Greg tried to keep up with us. Funny, Frankie would not only out walk Greg but he would easily out walk me if he could.

So we got six days to work out details.

May 9, 2008

We should all cry

A friend of mine who has already adopted one severely neglected sulcata is about to receive a second severely neglected sulcata. It is very horrible that the sulcata's first family did not consider their care to be wrong.

The sulcata was raised in New York (a sulcata raised in the North is a big challenge). He was described as "well cared for" and "large enough to mix with kids." When the sulcata arrived in California (its new home) it was severely undersized for its age, the back flat and lumpy, and the beak completely malformed. Its lower jaw jutted past the upper like a scoop.

The current caretaker (trying to rehabilitate it for its new home at my friend's house) said they cried when she placed it in its temporary new outdoor quarantine pen. She said the pitiful malformed little sulcata was sitting in the sun, its skinny little back legs stretched out behind him and neck stretch out as far as it would just soaking up the warmth of the sun. She had the distinct feeling it was probably the first time this poor sulcata had ever seen sunlight or had a chance to walk around.

With his weaken state and deformed body it can never be around children, pets or other normal sulcata. And yet its former owner called it healthy and well cared for.

This case, and many other cases (too many cases) make me cry for the sulcata species in captivity. How very very few sulcata live in good homes and get proper care.

I plea with anyone considering a sulcata - evaluate, re-evaluate your long term situation for the sake of the sulcata. Learn about care and then re-check what you think is correct sulcata husbandry. For the sake of all captive sulcata, consider adopting a sulcata before you buy a hatchling. Do not breed your sulcata. Four of five sulcata will be abandoned, turned over to rescued groups or sold by their owners who just were not ready for the big responsibility. Very very few grow up to be healthy specimens.

I look at Frankie and almost think he is a freak of nature. He is actually healthy. But even he is not the picture of what a real sulcata should look like. After all my preparations, all my research, all I learned, I made mistakes. More than I want to admit. If I made so many mistakes can you image what happens when to a sulcata bought by someone who compulsively buys a cute little baby and has never owned any type of turtle before?

May 6, 2008

Famous Frankie

Frankie was a celebrity again! This last weekend he was featured in an pet article. As soon as I can I will get a scan of the article and post it on this blog so everyone can see it.

Until then, here is the text:

No hare apparent as tortoise takes its time in Birmingham-area Walk for Autism.
Sunday, May 04, 2008, Slow but sure:
I felt like a bit of a slacker after learning that a tortoise participated in the Walk for Autism 2008 while my dog, Vito, and I were home on the couch.

True, Frankie - a sulcata tortoise who belongs to Leann Christenson of Leeds - didn't exactly set the pace at the recent 3K walk at Regions Park. But he plodded on nonetheless.

"Everyone quickly passed him, but he didn't care," Christenson says.

Frankie wasn't allowed to complete the event, because public safety officials requested that he leave the road once all walkers passed.

"I think Frankie walked about 45 minutes, which means he walked just under one mile," Christenson says.

But he would've gladly finished, she says, and was in fine shape to do so. The pair's training sessions, which started with one-mile walks, progressed to two miles closer to the event.

Way to go Frankie! Walk on!

May 4, 2008

Missed the rain

Saturday morning we were expecting big storms again so the question always comes up whether to bring the turtles and Frankie inside or leave them outside. So, outside for the night and inside first thing in the morning before the storm hits. Sounds okay.

Storm hit very very early in the morning about 6:00 or so. All turltes outside. But all turtles okay. By 10:00 am, everyone was back in the sun and damp earth running around. Box turtles especially walk around after a rain. Frankie was walking all over as soon as he warmed up.

May 1, 2008

Frosty Turts

Poor Frankie, poor box turtles, another two nights inside. We had a cold snap with nigthtime temperatures into the high 30's. No outside sleeping for turtles.

We were in a real quandry on Tuesday because both Greg and I had to get up extra early and be out of the house by 6:00 am. We had two choices - leave Frankie inside for the day with 100% of complete distruction of gecko room, or put him outside at 6:00 in the morning when it was very cold.

Outside at 6:00 was the choice. We turned on his outdoor heat all night so it was warm and toasty in the morning and carried (!! - 48 pounds is getting tough) him into his prepared shelter.

By the time we checked on him that night, he was fine, back in his warm outdoor enclosure.

But turtles go outside today.