Soda's Tortoise Garden

Table of Contents

Why tortoises?

I get asked this question a lot. Why choose tortoises as pets? In the Philippines, turtles or tortoises aren't very popular. They're typically seen as unlucky or "malas". People also mistake them as slow and boring.

But I really think tortoises make great pets! The hobby has grown a lot over the last several years. Even local celebrities and successful local businessmen keep several including high-end species such as Radiated and Aldabra tortoises. Their success continues on despite keeping these shelled creatures. So no, they're not unlucky at all! All other countries consider them lucky except in the Philippines. Strange.

Radiated tortoises in the Philippines
Me and Rootbeer, my semi high yellow Radiated tortoise


Why choose tortoises as pets?

Personally, here are my reasons:

1) They can outlive you. Bigger species like Radiated tortoises and Aldabras can live up to 150-200 years.
2) They can surprise you. They look boring but once they're comfortable, their personalities will come out. Mocha, my Sulcata follows me around like a dog. Most of my Radiatads, especially Soda, will approach me to have their head and feet scratched. They are adorable.
3) They're quiet. They don't bark and don't make noise except when they are mating. But the sound they make is actually funny.
4) They're relaxing to watch. I love watching them walk with grace despite carrying their heavy shells. And I never get tired of watching them eat.
5) They make great investments. It sounds selfish but it's true. You can buy wholesale, let them grow a little, then resell them for a higher price. It's perfect practice to transition from a mere hobbyist to an entrepreneur.
6) They won't escape very easily. Unlike other reptiles. But note that they still do. One example is pancake tortoises because they are good climbers.
7) They're good listeners. As the saying goes, "Ikwento mo sa pagong." Haha
8) I like the community of tortoise hobbyists. They are simple people with a quiet sense of humor. They are responsible and they always think long term. They find joy in the simplest things. But they dream big and commit to it.
9) They're low maintenance. My monthly expenses for vegetables is around P1000. That's pretty cheap considering I feed a number of tortoises. Note that the amount does not include commercial food like Mazuri, which are a lot more expensive. I can finish a 25 pound bag in around 1.5 months. Also, the work routine is pretty simple. Once you've established a good set-up and routine, they're very simple to take care of and won't require your attention 24/7.
10) They're beautiful. Beauty is subjective but there are a lot of tortoises that are very pretty to look at, like special morphs or high yellows, or tortoises that have shells that are very smooth, round and high-domed, or the way they walk and carry their shells. I believe each tortoise is unique and special.
11) It's fun to monitor their growth and see them get bigger. I usually take pictures for future reference. And it's amazing to look back at those pictures and see how much they've grown.


tortoises in the philippines
Jenny, my girlfriend and her Redfoot, Rum

tortoise care in the philippines
PTE (Philippine Tortoise Enthusiasts) visits Congo Charlie

What do I feed them?

Most of the tortoise food that we see online are not available in the Philippines such as dandelion, kale, etc. So here's a list of what I feed them. I've already compared notes with fellow hobbysists, so these are the things we have in common. They also feed other things but I won't include them here. I will only include what I've fed to my own tortoises so far:

- Saluyot (you can feed this daily)
- Talbos ng Kamote
- Kangkong
- Alugbati
- Gumamela leaves and flowers (available in garden shops in Manila)
- Opuntia Cactus (available in garden shops in QC Circle)
- Mazuri tortoise food (3-4x per week. For available Mazuri, please click
- Kalabasa (no need to cook, just peel or slice thin strips)
- Pechay (not recommended unless they're organic or no insecticides have been used)
- Carabao Grass (daily)
- Sera Raffy Vital for tortoises (2x per week, please click HERE to buy)
- Sliced Okra without the seeds (Once every two weeks)
- Fruits like Avocado, Melon, Watermelon, Dragonfruit are also good to give occassionally

To check for other vegetables and plants, the list from The Tortoise Table is a lot more comprehensive. Please click below:


I've always given my tortoises supplements for several years now. Some keepers may argue whether this is necessary or not. But I honestly believe it has helped me a lot in taking good care of my tortoises.

- Reptile Calcium. Buy one without D3 if your tortoise gets natural sunlight. (2-3 times per week)
- Reptile Multivitamins. (Once a week)


tortoise care in the philippines
My friend's Radiated tortoises eating saluyot, talbos ng kamote and mashed Mazuri

tortoise care in the philippines
Soda and Cola staring at the Mazuri sack


Tortoise Enclosure Necessities

- Food dish
- Water dish
- Hide
- Substrate (see discussion below)

Optional items:
- UV light (if your tortoises don't get natural sunlight. But honestly you really should be getting them natural sunlight)
- CHE or Ceramic Heat Emitter for sick tortoises and more sensitive species like Leopard tortoises, or if your place in Manila can get really cold. In our house, the temperature ranges from 26C to 34C. Out of all my enclosures, I only have one setup that has a CHE.
- Thermostat (If you have a CHE, I recommend that you also get a thermostat. CHEs tend to overheat the enclosure. A lot of tortoises have died of overheating. With a thermostat, the CHE will automatically turn off when it reaches a set temperature.)


tortoise enclosure needs
Rootbeer knows exactly where to expect his meal

Tortoises need to have a water dish inside their enclosures


Indoor or Outdoor?

For my bigger tortoises that are more than 10 inches, they're always in the garden. Rain or shine, I keep them there. Except for when there are typhoons, then they are moved inside the house. But do note that there are numerous shaded areas and hiding spots to hide from the sun and to keep dry when there's rain. At night, they are moved to a locked room for security, which I think they hate because they always hiss when I remove them from their favorite sleeping spots in the garden.

For medium sized tortoises (5 inches to 9 inches), they stay in a veranda type of area. It's still outdoor but it's shaded and caged. This is important because even at this size, rats and stray cats can still kill your tortoise. You know we have a lot of these in Manila!

For tortoises less than 5 inches, I keep them inside the house using glass terrariums and acrylic enclosures or "closed chambers". You may google about "tortoise tables" or "closed chamber setup for tortoises" for more information.

Tortoises For Beginners

I get asked this a lot. Short answer: Sulcata, Star, Elongata, Redfoot, and Cherryhead Redfoot because these species are hardier than others and are in the lower-end of the price spectrum.

1) Elongata: For beginners with limited budget and want a tortoise species that fits the Philippine climate perfectly. Price range for a baby is around Php 5,000 and it is actually endemic to our neighboring countries here in Southeast Asia. So Elongated tortoises actually do well here in the Philippines, whether kept indoor or outdoor. This is the perfect tortoise if budget is an issue.

2) Sulcata: For beginners who want a tortoise that grows big. Typical selling price is around Php 7,500 for a 2.5-inch Sulcata. Sulcata tortoises have one of the fastest growth rates for tortoises. It can grow from 2.5 inches to around 10 inches in 2 years and around 16 inches in 4-5 years. It also increases its value as it grows. The Philippines has not yet reached a point where there are too many Sulcatas in captivity. In the US, when owners can no longer accommodate their big size, they offer them for adoption for a minimal fee. This is not the case here in the Philippines. Full-size adults may cost more or less Php 150,000, depending on the sex.

Sulcatas are also very hardy compared to other species but this doesn't mean they don't get sick due to improper care. Same goes for all species. Beginners usually think that when a species is hardy, they can neglect some of their basic needs. They can still easily get sick and eventually die when exposed to incorrect care.

3) Indian Star: For beginners who want tortoises that are hardy, have a beautiful pattern and stays small. Typical price range is around P8,500 for a 2.5 to 3 inch Indian Star. They do well here in the Philippines and was once the most popular tortoise pet in Asia. I remember back in 1999, I bought mine for P750. Each year the price kept on increasing. Stars don't grow big. Full size males are around 5.5 to 6 inches and full size females are around 8.5 to 10 inches, which they usually reach in around 5 years.

4) Redfoot and Cherryhead Redfoot: Also at around P8,500 for 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Very hardy just like Sulcatas. But they do require higher humidity so that their shells can grow smoothly. They are more prone to pyramiding when kept in a dry enclosure. Research more about "Effects of Humidity on Tortoise Growth and Pyramiding" and also "Closed chamber setup for tortoises". Once properly setup, Redfoot tortoises are very tough and can easily tolerate temperature drops in Manila (this is assuming that the tortoise is healthy).

Next Level Tortoises

Fellow Filipino hobbyists who are successful in taking care of these newbie species usually take their hobby up a notch by trying more challenging or more expensive tortoise species. When you see your first few tortoises getting bigger, healthier and friendlier, you will definitely want more! Tortoises have that effect. Unfortunately, a lot of beginners never graduate from that stage because most of the tortoises they get are either already sick or eventually get sick due to wrong information, neglect, or incorrect care.

But those who are successful find great joy in taking care of these misunderstood animals. These keepers then proceed to the next level:

-Leopards: More senstive to temperature drops. Prone to RI (Respiratory Infection). We don't have a lot of locally bred Leopard tortoises here in the Philippines. A lot of the imports die! But those that survive have proven to acclimate successfully and are strong and stable tortoises. Plus they grow to be very beautiful! Leopards get more white as they get bigger and the marbling of the shell gets prettier.

-Radiata: Tortoise enthusiasts in the Philippines either have one or dream of having one! It is a consistent favorite of tortoise hobbyists. Radiateds have a classic tortoise shape with beautiful patterns that are unique from each one. For me, they are the friendliest species I've handled since 1999 because they actually let you pet them. They literally stop what they're doing and stand still when you do. I've only seen this exact behavior in Yniphoras, Aldabras and Galapagos tortoises. They are the biggest of the "starred" species but are smaller than Sulcatas. In the long run, their size makes maintenance a lot easier and more practical. My full grown Rads can be carried and moved by older folks when needed. You can't do that for Sulcatas or Aldabras. Radiateds also acclimate well to Philippine weather and can handle cold nights in Manila, the same way they do when it gets cold in Madagascar.

-Aldabra: Also a favorite! A classic tortoise in every aspect. All-black beauty. A majestic giant! Who wouldn't want a tortoise that gets big in just 1-2 years? They're giants in 5 years, or at least 19 inches in 3 years to give you an idea. One must have the budget and space for this species. Ironically, they grow larger than Sulcatas but seem to require less space because of their gentle demeanor. Adult sulcatas can get restless and rowdy and require bigger space.

The list just goes on and on. There are a lot of wonderful tortoise species! Each successful experience with one makes you want to try the next. Tortoises as a hobby is surprisingly addictive really. Plus they're easier to maintain than other pets in the long run.


Garden Soil

For outdoors, the perfect substrate is still soil with grass, or edible plants and weeds. But what I do is I remove all small rocks, stones and pebbles. Tortoises will nibble on anything and will try to bite and eventually swallow even medium sized pebbles. I already had an Indian Star tortoise that died of impaction because of this. So be careful.

Also, a lot of shade is provided in the garden so that the tortoises have plenty of places to hide when the sun is too strong and when it starts to rain. During strong Philippine typhoons, the tortoises are brought inside the house.


The discussion below is for my indoor setup for tortoises that are 6 inches and below.

What substrate do I use? And what does my enclosure look like?

I always get this question. To be honest, this is very tough to answer because I've tried so many. My short answer and most recommended substrate: cocopeat or soil. And if you find it too messy, add a good quality s-shaped rubber mat. Cocopeat is available in Ace Hardware or in any garden shops around Metro Manila such as Whiteplains or QC Circle.

For the long answer, read on below. These are the substrates I've tried over the years:


This is the easiest to clean. The problem is it's too dry and does not provide humidity. More importantly, tortoises develop leg problems because of newspaper. Why? It's because they don't get traction for their feet and so their leg muscles don't develop properly. Same goes for any type of paper. My first batch of Indian Stars grew up with newspaper. Most of them walked funny. Whenever they walked, they didn't step on the bottom part of their feet. They were dragging their legs. So yes, I don't recommend newspaper even though it is the easiest to clean.

Paper Towels

I use this for hatchlings when they're 1 day old until they're about several weeks old. It's very easy to clean and it's very safe for baby tortoises. You can spray it a bit to provide some wetness so that it's not too dry.


Great for maintaining humidity. Great for walking and burrowing. Problem is insects! I always get all types of insects with Cocopeat. If you can clean and maintain it regularly, cocopeat is perfect. Some hobbyists also bake the cocopeat in the oven to kill all insects and eggs, or they leave it under the sun for a few days.

coco peat for tortoises
Cocopeat substrate


Soil can also maintain humidity. But it can get muddy. Plant some grass, edible plants and weeds, and you have a great setup.

baby tortoise on soil
7-Day Old Radiata Hatchling on soil, grass and weeds


Branded Reptile Carpet

I used this for a few years too. Good for walking and traction. Not good for humidity. If you can use reptile carpets inside a "closed chamber" and manage to maintain humidity, then great. I think this should work too. You may google "closed chamber setup for tortoises" to get an idea on how to increase humidity in your tortoise setup.

Rubber Mat

High quality s-shaped rubber mats. These are high quality mats that don't smell or decompose easily. Easy to clean too. Available in the 3M section inside Ace Hardware. Problem is they don't hold humidity when used solo. I combine it with cocopeat which seems to work out well. Not too messy especially when tortoises eat. Plus, humidity is maintained too. Be sure not to get cheap rubber mats for your indoor setup because they smell very toxic! A lot of my friends' tortoises have gotten sick because of this.

tortoise mat
Leopard tortoises on 3M rubber mat combined with cocopeat. The tortoises don't get too messy especially when they eat, but at the same time, humidty is maintained because of the cocopeat underneath.


Rubber mat combined with towels

I've also tried to combine these rubber mats with wet towels underneath so that the humidity is maintained. The rubber mat would keep the tortoises' plastron from getting wet while the wet towel would increase the overall humidity of the enclosure. I always aim for 75 to 85%. I simply keep the towels damp while the rubber mats keep the tortoises dry. Plus, both the towels and mats are not difficult to clean. Many hobbyists might not like it because it's unnatural, but it works for me.

tortoise care in the philippines
Baby Sulcata on a rubber mat and a superabsorbent towel


Mixing Different Tortoise Species

Short answer is no. I don't keep them all together except maybe for taking pictures, which happens very rarely and which I only do for tortoises that I've kept for several years already.

There are a lot of articles written about this. It's important to do your own research. In my experience, it is a definite NO.

Even for the same species, I keep different sizes separate and different batches separate too. So for example when I have new tortoises, I isolate them from my old ones. And sometimes males are separate from females even if they're the same species. Yes, maintenance becomes very difficult. But it keeps all of them healthy and alive!

Here are a few examples of my own experiences as well as some of my other fellow hobbyists:

- Male Redfoot adult showed signs of aggression towards a female Radiated tortoise. The Radiata got bit on her neck, bled out and died. Radiateds have thinner skin and less scales on their extremities. A female redfoot would have handled this aggression better.
- New Sulcata baby was introduced to a stable Sulcata group. Turned out the baby was sick and the entire Sulcata colony suffered with Respiratory Infection.
- Imported Elongata was mixed with healthy Redfoots that was part of an old collection. In a few weeks, all the RF's poop became watery. Turned out the Elongata had flagellates and all of them became infected.
- Smaller female Sulcata got seriously injured by an aggressive bigger male. Female Sulcata eventually died.
- Newly purchased Leopard tortoise is introduced to a stable collection of Radiated tortoise juveniles. After a few weeks, all of the tortoises had RI (Respiratory Infection).
- The list just goes on and on


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