The African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata), also called the sulcata tortoise, is a species of tortoise, which inhabits the southern edge of the Sahara desert, in northern Africa. It is the third-largest species of tortoise in the world and the largest species of mainland tortoise not found on an island and the only species in the genus Centrochelys.
Due to their reputation for having a pleasant temperament, sulcata tortoises are sometimes kept as pets, despite presenting significant challenges. They require large enclosures, temperatures above 60 °F (16 °C), and bedding composed of grasses or grass-based hay. Due to their high dietary fiber needs, grasses form a minimum of 75% of their food intake. To remain healthy, they require sufficient calcium for bone and shell development, low protein, and minimal fruit or sugary foods. Whereas wild tortoises obtain enough calcium from the soil, pets generally require calcium supplements. Young sulcatas grow quickly and can double in size each year during the first three years.
Many “wet” vegetables cause health problems in large quantities but prickly pear cactus pads, hibiscus leaves, hay from various grasses, and dandelions are generally safe. Some common garden plants, such as azaleas, are toxic to tortoises. Lack of calcium combined with high protein contributes to shell malformations and pyramiding. Sulcatas are voracious and sometimes overeat. Some tortoises take in excessive protein by eating caterpillars and snails.
Per CITES, a zero annual export quota has been established for C. sulcata for specimens removed from the wild and traded for primarily commercial purposes. Due to excessive captive breeding and removal from the wild, many rescue centers are full and unable to accept more. American Tortoise Rescue discourages the breeding and selling of the species.