Taking Care of Tortoises in the Philippines

There are a lot of articles about tortoises in the internet but there aren't a lot written for tortoise hobbyists in the Philippines. We usually get a lot of questions in our page, so this summarizes most of the questions that we get. I hope it helps!

I started writing this in 2009 when I first created this website with webs.com. Please note that despite successfully breeding various tortoise species, I still learn something new every day. There is so much to learn just by talking to fellow hobbyists, doing research, joining forums and reading hundreds of websites and educational posts. My answers below describe how I do things that have worked for me since 1999. These methods can still improve and change over time. We'll try to keep them updated as much as possible. Feel free to write us a message on our Facebook page for additional questions or information that you wish to share. http://www.facebook.com/sodatort

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FAQ: Can I register my tortoise with DENR?

DENR CWR or Captive Wildlife Certificate

In summary, you can only register tortoises or exotic animals if you got them from sources who have a WFP. The WFP permittee should provide you with papers, such as OR and/or CBC, and/or LTP so that you can bring those papers and the animal to the nearest DENR office. Around 15 years ago during the amnesty for exotic pets, you could actually bring any animal and have it registered regardless of where you got it from. But the amnesty period lasted only 1-2 years.

For more details, refer to DENR's infographic below.

Terms:

  • CWR - Certificate of Wildlife Registration
  • DENR - Department of Environment and Natural Resources
  • WFP - Wildlife Farm Permit
  • OR - Official Receipt
  • CBC - Captive-Bred Certificate
  • LTP - Local Transport Permit (This is needed if your address is covered by a different DENR office from that of the WFP source)
How do i register my tortoise with DENR

This infographic is owned by DENR-NCR and was posted in their Facebook page.

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FAQ: How do I know if my tortoise is male or female? And when will they be sexually mature?

Sexing your tortoise

There are a number of ways to determine the sex of a tortoise (male has long tail and concave plastron). But until he shows his male organ, one can never be 100% sure.

On a sunny day in February 2010, during Soda's bath time, we confirmed that Soda is indeed a he! This usually happens when Radiated tortoises are at least 10 inches long.

In general, you cannot determine the sex of your tortoise until they reach a certain age. It is also by this size that they are somewhat sexually mature, but it doesn't mean that they will already successfully reproduce. Sometimes even when they're smaller than the recommended age, you will already have a hint of what their sex is. But that's not yet 100% accurate. If they look like males at a smaller size, chances are you have a male. Otherwise, they all look female until they reach a certain size and suddenly you discover that they're not.

General guideline per species. It is better to do your research on each species but below is a general guideline.

  • Indian Star - 5 inches for males, 8 inches for females
  • Sulcata - 12-14 inches
  • Radiated - 10 inches
  • Aldabra - 24 inches
  • Spider - 4 inches
  • Yniphora - 12 inches
  • Redfoot - 6-8 inches
  • For other species, you can do a Google search

Things to watch out for when sexing a tortoise:

  • Male organ - you will see this coming out of their tail usually when soaking, but sometimes when they just feel like it, Lol!
  • Anal scutes - varies per species but in general when the opening is wider, it is male just like Soda's anal scutes.
  • Shape of plastron - females have a flat plastron, males are concave
  • Tail - longer for males
  • Gular scutes - also varies per species but males have longer gular scutes for some species
  • Over all shape of the shell - also varies per species but some species when the overall shape is elongated, they're male
how to determine the sex of your radiated tortoise

Cola, female Radiata.

how to determine the sex of your radiated tortoise

I feel slightly embarassed for having to show Soda's male organ here. But I'm sure he wouldn't mind! This was Soda when he was much younger at around 10 inches.

sexing your radiated tortoise

Notice the tail of Cola (1st pic to the left) is much shorter than Soda's tail (above) which curls and bends because of its longer length

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FAQ: Is Soda an Indian Star?

Differentiating Radiated tortoises from Indian Star tortoises

Indian stars are commonly seen in pet shops in the Philippines, especially during the late 90s and early 2000s. So it is usual for people to mistake Soda, Cola and their babies for Indian Stars. There are a number of differences and I'll try to show them in pictures.

  • Size - Indian stars are smaller; full sized males are around 5.5 inches and females are around 8 to 9 inches. Radiateds may reach 15 to 16 inches for both male and female.
  • Carapace Pattern - This depends on the individual, but Radiated tortoises usually have more rays on each scute of their shells.
  • Scales - Stars have rougher scales on their feet. Radiateds look smoother and the scales feel thinner.
  • Plastron Pattern - The shell pattern underneath is also very different.

Despite these differences, both tortoise species are equally beautiful. And as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This holds true for us here in Soda's Tortoise Garden because we love all tortoise species!

Difference of Indian Stars and Radiated tortoises

This was young Soda more than a decade ago when he was only 4.5 inches. Beside him is a male Indian Star tortoise of the same size.

adult radiated tortoise compared to adult star tortoise

Adult size of a female Radiated tortoise compared to an adult female Indian Star tortoise.

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FAQ: How do I know if my tortoise will be laying eggs soon?

Signs that your tortoise will be laying eggs

It is usually straightforward and the most common signs are restlessness and digging.

Females are restless even during times when she is usually asleep or hiding in her cave. Also, despite the absence of proper nesting sites, females may still attempt to dig even on cement. You'll notice this when their hind legs make circular movements alternating between their left and right leg. This is an urgent sign that you have to provide the correct nesting setup. For us, we just use plain garden soil. Depending on the species, the depth of the soil may range from 6 to 12 inches.

When you are not absolutely sure, an X-Ray will definitely tell you if your tortoise has eggs.

In the case below, we were worried about our female Star tortoise because she kept digging for several weeks but never laid any eggs. So we went to the clinic to get her an X-Ray to be sure she is not egg bound, a condition which can be fatal to tortoises.

xray of a female tortoise with eggs

Tortoise X-Ray taken on October 4, 2015 in Vets in Practice, Madaluyong. 3 eggs can be seen in the X-Ray. The thickness of the eggs look normal and not over-calcified. There doesn't seem to be any blockage either. So the only thing to do now is to wait for nature to take its course. I just have to make sure she is given a suitable nesting spot, fed well, and given sufficient calcium supplements.

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FAQ: What are the possible causes of tortoise deaths?

Tortoise Deaths

Below is just a summary of reasons. Please research each topic on your own. You may also join tortoiseforum.org as they have a lot of discussions there.

1) Respiratory Disease or Sipon. Unlike the common colds for humans, this is actually very serious for tortoises.

2) Virus. Usually happens when a tortoise is infected by another sick tortoise or reptile. This is why separating different species or new tortoises is important.

3) Incorrect temperature and humidity range. This may not kill a tortoise right away but it will impact its health and can be related to #1.

4) Dogs, cats, rats, ants. We have a lot of these in Metro Manila. Dogs, no matter how good they are, can and will attack a tortoise.

5) Bullying. I know of someone whose bigger Sulcata attacked and rammed a smaller sulcata. This sounds mild but can actually get bloody and deadly.

6) Drowning. I have a friend who left the water hose turned on while a tortoise was soaking and got distracted by something else. The water level rose up too high that the tortoise couldn't reach the surface to breathe. After a few minutes, the owner returned and found that the tortoise had already drowned.

7) Getting turned over for a long period. This stresses the tortoise and gives unnecessary pressure to the lungs and internal organs. This can also happen while soaking a tortoise (see #6).

8) Overheating. This happens sometimes in relation to #7, like on a hot day and they get turned over. This also happens when they are left basking under the sun at extreme temperatures and they have no other place to hide. Or when a heater is used incorrectly, or when used without a thermostat.

9) Fire. There have been a few cases when the heater inside the tortoise's enclosure got too hot and caught fire. This is very deadly not just for the tortoise but for everyone in the house. Also see #8.

10) Parasites. This is why regular stool tests and deworming (if necessary) are an important part of any tortoise keeper's routine.

11) Toxic Plants. Tortoises may eat plants that are not good for them as long as they are within reach.

12) Impaction due to swallowing too many pebbles or small rocks. This happens way too frequently especially for tortoises who are free to roam the yard.

13) Poor diet. Again, this won't kill a tortoise immediately but it will impact its health in the long run.

14) Falling from a condominium or a high-rise building. A lot of hobbyists in Manila live in condominiums so this is possible and has happened in other countries.

Causes of Tortoise Deaths

A Radiated tortoise and a stray cat in Manila, Philippines. Picture taken in 2003. No animals were harmed in this photo.

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FAQ: What's the importance of papers? Who is it for?

Importance of Tortoises with Papers

1) If you want to be safe from nosy neighbors, or jealous FB friends, or simply anyone who could potentially report something illegal, then torts with papers are for you.

Note: Papers include OR (official receipt) issued by a DENR-accredited entity who is also a WFP-holder, and/or a CBC (Captive-Bred Certificate) also given by the same WFP-holder, and/or an LTP (Local Transport Permit) issued by DENR if needed.

2) If you plan to get a CWR from DENR by registering your legally acquired tortoise(s), then torts with papers are for you.

Note: CWR-holders (Certificate of Wildlife Registration) are allowed to keep and breed the species that are listed in their CWR. They are not allowed to sell. There is some prestige in owning a CWR. It means you're a serious hobbyist with legally acquired animals recognized by DENR.

3) If you're an existing CWR or WFP-holder and would like to add a particular tortoise species (ie. Radiated tortoise) in your official list of legal species and headcount, then torts with papers are for you.

Note: WFP = Wildlife Farm Permit. It has a lot of requirements, one requirement is the CWR. WFP-holders are allowed to keep, breed and sell the species listed in their WFP.

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FAQ: Can I register my tortoises without papers in DENR to get a CWR?

No, you cannot. This was allowed during the 2004 amnesty but is no longer the case. You can only get a CWR by registering tortoises or exotic pets that were legally acquired and have papers.

Bonus Questions about Legality:

Can I bring my tortoises without papers to the vet? Yes you can. Vets don't normally file complaints and report you to the DENR.

I have just acquired tortoises with papers, do I really need to go to DENR and register it? Is it illegal if I don't? Your tortoises with receipts are still considered legal even if you don't register them in DENR. You won't get a CWR, but at least your tortoises are still legal.

What if I have animals in my CWR and I no longer want them? Or, what if I have tortoises with papers and I need to give them away? DENR has a policy about giving a Deed of Donation but the rules aren't so clear. It is better to contact DENR-NCR regarding this matter.

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FAQ: Why Keep Tortoises As Pets?

Why choose tortoises?

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. So I really do get asked this question a lot!

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 despite keeping these shelled creatures. So no, they're not unlucky at all! All other countries consider them lucky except in the Philippines, which is strange.

Here are my reasons:

1) They can outlive you. Bigger species like Radiated tortoises and Aldabras can live up to 150-200 years. You can pass them on to your children.

2) They are surprisingly friendly and cute. They look boring at first but when they thrive and get comfortable with you and the environment you provide them, then 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. The list goes on. They are simply adorable.

3) They're quiet. They don't bark or chirp and don't make noise except when they are mating, which actually sounds funny.

4) Their poop doesn't smell. Unlike cats, dogs, rabbits, and even poultry and livestock, tortoise poop doesn't have a strong smell because it's composed primarily of greens, grass and fiber.

5) They're relaxing to watch. I love watching them walk with grace despite carrying their heavy shells. I never get tired of watching them eat. And watching baby turtles hatch is priceless.

6) They make great investments. They can only get more valuable as they grow bigger.

7) They won't escape very easily. They're not very good climbers because of their heavy weight and high domed shells. Some can still climb and escape though, Pancake torts and Manouria emys are some examples of excellent climbers.

8) They're good listeners. As the saying goes, "Ikwento mo sa pagong." Just kidding

9) I like the community of local 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.

10) 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. 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.

11) 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 very smooth, round and high-domed shells. I believe each tortoise is unique and special.

12) 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.

high yellow radiated tortoise

high yellow radiated tortoise

high yellow radiated tortoise

Aldabra Tortoise and a small replica

Aldabra Tortoise and a small tortoise replica

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FAQ: What do you feed your torts?

Tortoise Diet

Most of the tortoise food that we see online are not easily 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.

Also, this list is based on an excellent tortoise food database from The Tortoise Table. I suggest you check it out:

http://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/site/plants_19.asp

Vegetables You can Buy in Philippine Groceries and Markets

  • Saluyot
  • Talbos ng Kamote
  • Kangkong
  • Pepino (Cucumber)
  • Kalabasa (no need to cook, just peel, grate, or slice thin strips)
  • Pechay (not recommended unless they're organic or no insecticides have been used)
  • Sliced Okra without the seeds (occassionally)
  • Fruits like Avocado, Melon, Watermelon, Dragonfruit are also good to give occassionally

Plants you can buy in Philippine Garden Shops and plant on your own

  • Mulberry leaves and flowers
  • Gumamela leaves and flowers (available in garden shops in Manila)
  • Opuntia Cactus (available in garden shops in QC Circle and online)

Grass

  • Common lawn grass like Carabao, Bermuda, Frog Grass. Available anywhere in the Philippines.
  • Napier Grass. Common here in the Philippines as it is fed to goats. Tortoises seem to like it shredded.
  • Cat Grass. This is a combination of Barley Grass, Oat Grass and Wheat Grass and sometimes comes with Orchard Grass and Rye Grass. Available in Shopee and cat specialty shops online.
  • Timothy Grass or Hay. Also available online or in cat specialty shops.

Commercial Tortoise Food available online, Facebook Marketplace and E-Commerce sites

  • Mazuri tortoise food (seems to be the cheapest especially if bought in bulk)
  • Repcal tortoise food
  • Zoomed tortoise food
  • Sera Raffy Vital

SUPPLEMENTS

  • Reptile Calcium. Buy one without D3 if your tortoise gets natural sunlight. (2-3 times per week)
  • Reptile Multivitamins. (Once a week)
  • Probiotics. You can mix this to their drinking water. The brand I use is EM1 but you can also use other brands.
Radiated tortoise on Carabao Grass and Bermuda Grass

Cola grazing on Bermuda and Carabao grass. Grass is an integral part of any tortoise's diet.

tortoise eating opuntia cactus

Soda stealing a quick bite of Opuntia while I was just getting the camera

Radiated Tortoise Eating Wheat Grass

A young Radiated tortoise checking out the freshly grown Wheat Grass

tortoise care in the philippines

Radiated tortoises eating saluyot, talbos ng kamote and mashed Mazuri

tortoise care in the philippines

Soda and Cola staring at the Mazuri sack, "Is that Mocha in the picture?"

Tortoises eating Mulberry leaves at the garden

Variety is the key to success

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FAQ: What does your enclosure look like?

Tortoise Enclosure Necessities

  • Food dish
  • Water dish
  • Hide
  • Humid Hide (with Sphagnum moss)
  • Substrate or flooring (see discussion below)
  • Thermometer and Hygrometer (For tortoises, getting the correct temperature and humidty range is everything! You need to have a thermo-hygro to measure this.)
  • UVB lighting (if your tortoises are indoors and don't get natural sunlight.)
  • CHE or Ceramic Heat Emitter (In our house, the temperature ranges from 26C to 34C all year long, which is already perfect for Radiated tortoises. But most other species like Sulcatas and Leopards will definitely need a heater as they require higher temperatures.)
  • 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. You can buy a branded one like Zoomed. You can also purchase a generic thermostat online such as Shopee or Lazada.)
  • Digital Timer Switch (I use this to automatically switch our UVB lighting on at 7AM and off at 6PM daily.)

Indoor or Outdoor?

For my bigger tortoises that are more than 8 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. Also make sure your place is secure. This is important because tortoises that are around 8 to 10 inches can still be attacked and bitten by rats, stray cats and dogs. 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.

Radiated tortoise babies

Radiated tortoises eating on their feeding dish

tortoise enclosure needs

Rootbeer knows exactly where to expect his meal

Tortoise Shed

Soda's tortcave is just an inverted plastic pot. I know it needs an upgrade. But it has served its purpose for several years. The curtain in front is called "PVC Curtain". This keeps the rain from going inside. Radiated tortoises and most species can withstand temperature drops at night or during rainfall as long as they stay dry (in Philippine climate). But do not let them get wet. They can get sick!

Tortoises need to have a water dish inside their enclosures

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FAQ: What's the best tortoise species for beginners?

Tortoises For Beginners

I can recommend 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 to 10,000 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 exact size and 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 given incorrect care. Getting the correct temperature and humidity is key.

3) Indian Star: For beginners who want tortoises that are hardy, have a beautiful pattern and stay small. Typical price range is around P8,500 for a 2.5 to 3 inch Indian Star (edit, price has increased in 2019). 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) Red-footed and Cherryhead: Also at around P8,500 for 2.5 to 3.5 inches. A very hardy species. 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 torts are 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: Serious tortoise enthusiasts in the Philippines either have one or dream of having one! It is a consistent favorite of tortoise hobbyists worldwide. 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 so they require bigger space.

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

Indian Star Tortoises

Indian Star Tortoises

Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoise

Cherry Head Red-footed Tortoises

Leopard Tortoise

Leopard Tortoise sticking out its tongue

Radiated tortoises in the Philippines

With a semi-high yellow Radiated tortoise

aldabra tortoises eating mulberry leaves

Aldabra Tortoises

Funny Tortoise

Funny-faced Tortoise

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FAQ: What's your humidity setting?

Why is humidity so important?

There are endless discussions online about pyramiding and poor shell growth. In the early 2000s, pyramiding was thought to be caused by improper diet (too much protein, not enough calcium and fiber) and overfeeding which leads to fast growth and pyramiding. But in the mid-2000s, there has been many testimonials that pyramiding is caused by low humidity or having a setup that's too dry. There are still a lot of arguments about this statement. But in my experience, providing at least around 75-85% humidity does result in smoother shell growth and a healthier tortoise overall.

Luckily, we usually get 50-70% humidity in Manila. This increases to 80-90% when it rains. So we just need a little tweak in our environment and setup to reach the desired range of at least 75%, 85% being ideal for me. Some hobbyists like to take it up to 90-99%, that's okay too. I'm just more comfortable with 85% because I don't feel like they're "drowning" in the air's water content.

More information about this in the sections below.

cocopeat for tortoises

Our juvenile Radiata, Rootbeer sound asleep in his humid terrarium. Hygrometer reading is at 85%.

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FAQ: What substrate or flooring do you use?

OUTDOORS

Plain Garden Soil

For outdoors, the perfect substrate is still plain garden soil with grass, 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 and hiding spots are provided in the garden so that the tortoises can hide when the sun is too strong and when it starts to rain. During strong Philippine typhoons, the tortoises are brought inside the house.

INDOORS

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 indoor enclosure look like?

I use a combination of substrates and floorings - cypress mulch and sphagnum moss, then I add a good quality s-shaped rubber mat during feeding time to avoid ingestion which can cause impaction. The brand of rubber mat that I use is 3M. Sphagnum moss is available in most garden shops around Metro Manila and even online. For cypress mulch, the brand I use is Zoomed. There are more Zoomed sellers now in the Philippines compared to 5 or 10 years ago. Just do a Google search, or search in Facebook, Shopee and Lazada.

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

Newspaper

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 walk funny. Whenever they walk, they don'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 a few months old. It's easy to clean and very safe for baby tortoises. You can spray it a bit to provide some wetness so that it's not too dry.

Cocopeat

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.

Plain Soil

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

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 maybe this can 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.

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 especially because I maintain dozens of enclosures.

Sphagnum Moss

This is pretty standard. Their hides should have sphagnum moss for increased humidity. They actually like this very much. Also provide them with another hide without the moss in case they find it too humid. Manila can get too humid especially after it rains.

Cypress Mulch

Highly recommended by tortoise hobbysists worldwide. Also research on discussions about this in Google and also in Tortoiseforum.org. There are several brands that have this in the US. Here in the Philippines, ZooMed is widely available especially in the recent years. Zoomed sells it as "Forest Floor Bedding". A good alternative is Orchid Bark because this is easier to buy here in the Philippines and is available in garden shops nationwide.

Reptibark

Reptibark is gaining popularity recently. It looks pretty in display setups. Just for me personally, I find the smell too strong, like varnished wood. But it works for a lot of other hobbysists so it's worth noting here as well.

Radiated Tortoise Drinking

Soda drinking in his outdoor mini-pond and soaking area

Radiated tortoise on Cypress Mulch and Sphagnum Moss mix

An 8-month old Radiated tortoise on Cypress Mulch and Sphagnum Moss mix

coco peat for tortoises

Young Aldabra tortoise on cocopeat substrate

baby tortoise on soil

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

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.

tortoise care in the philippines

Baby Sulcata on a rubber mat and a superabsorbent towel

radiated tortoise on sphagnum moss

Radiata yearling on Sphagnum Moss

Cypress Mulch

Cypress Mulch

reptibark

Reptibark

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FAQ: Do you give your tortoises a bath? How often do you soak?

Bathing and Brushing

Yes, we give them a bath once every 3-8 weeks. I use a sponge for bigger torts and a small tooth brush for smaller tortoises. As you can see below, Soda actually enjoys it.

Soaking Tortoises

Most of my tortoises get soaked 3 times per week. Hatchlings and yearlings, I try to soak daily. Adults maybe once a week. Do note that all my tortoises no matter what age have access to fresh water 24/7.

Soaking is when you put tortoises in a non-toxic container, preferrably food-grade, fill it up with clean water that's below their chin, and leave them there for about 30 minutes to 1 hour or at least until they poop. It may sound gross but the tortoises drink here, and then after drinking, they will urinate and poop. It's a perfect way to keep them hydrated, to keep their internal system clean which prevents any formation of bladder stones, one of the common problems in tortoises.

Soda loves baths

Soda keeps still while I brush his face

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FAQ: Who's Your Vet?

I usually go to 2 vet clinics in times of trouble:

1) Vets on the Block. Their old address is 36 Champaca street, Quezon City 1103 Metro Manila but now they have a new one. You can search this in Google.

2) I also go to Vets in Practice in Mandaluyong. I've had a few consultations with Dra. Marga, Dr. Donato, Dr. Mau and Dr. Richard. Also they are quick to provide results for X-Rays, lab tests and stool tests.

There are more vets now who are very knowledgable on tortoises compared to 5-10 years ago. Feel free to explore and ask for recommendations in tortoise groups in Facebook. Also check out the Facebook page of "The House of Pets Veterinary Clinic".

Tortoise Vet Philippines

With Dr. Rey, Soda and me in Vets on the Block

tortoise care in the Philippines

Soda having his annual check-up

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FAQ: How Do You Treat Sick Tortoises?

Treating Sick Tortoises

As much as possible, I let the professionals handle it. That's what vets are for. But over the years I've learned a few things about various tortoises diseases and issues and I've learned how to treat some of the more common problems. I can't say I've perfected this, but it sure has helped me a lot in this hobby. But it is not my job to discuss this in detail because I don't want to be held responsible for any mistakes that might occur because of what I say.

Let the professionals handle this. I've already given my recommended vets in the section above.

To those who insist and want to learn more, below is the link where I base all my experiements on. The page has been around for several years and it's truly a valuable resource. I cannot emphasize how much further reading, discussions, and research I've put to tortoise care and self-treatment and I do urge you to proceed with the same caution and diligence. Furthermore, when you do proceed with self-treatment and things don't work out, then there is no one else to blame but yourself. Harsh but true. Go to the vet, or accept the consequences.

http://www.anapsid.org/resources/rxdose.html

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FAQ: Do you keep different species of tortoises together?

Mixing Different Tortoise Species

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.

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 a biger and aggressive 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
Mixing Tortoise Species

A brave male Leopard tortoise ramming a bigger female Sulcata tortoise

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More Topics Coming Soon

For additional questions, you may write us a message on our Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/sodatort

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