Outdoor tortoise Habitats
Suitable for all Mediterranean species.
Photos © J P Gotham of Stoke on Trent
The above enclosure has been constructed with the position of the sun in mind.
A slightly sloping south facing aspect enables the tortoises to make maximum effect of the suns rays and the various plants and rocks allow them to take welcome shade on very sunny days. This type of enclosure is ideal as it has multiple substrates with good drainage, as opposed to lawn type substrates which are totally unsuitable for Mediterranean tortoises and have been linked to cases of shell rot. The moveable rabbit type lawn run is a bad idea for the same reason.
Access to electricity outdoors is a must. Given the non-predictable British weather, it is important for tortoises to have access to a heated area when there are long periods of bad weather. A simple ceramic heater or heat mat fixed to the roof of the hide area and connected to a thermostat will ensure the tortoise can shelter from the elements in relative comfort when necessary. When running electric cable outdoors it is always best to use pond/waterproof cable and to encase it in conduit whether running above or below ground. Remember too, that if your house is not on one of the modern trip switch electricity boxes, then a powerbreaker is essential.
Apart from the comfort of warmer ambient temperatures in the hide area, a basking lamp is also important for poor weather in order for the tortoise to warm it's core temperature, to digest it's food properly, Merely eating is not sufficient for healthy growth, if the tortoise cannot warm it's body to 30 degrees by basking, incomplete digestion will occur and therefore it will not grow properly and could suffer dietry deficiencies.
On occasions a tortoise will dig down into the substrate rather than returning to it's hide area, especially during the summer months when extra heating is not being used. In the event of this happening, boundaries must be set slightly below ground level, to prevent digging out. Horsfields, of course need much more secure enclosures and this is discussed in the horsfield/russian section.
As many tortoises will climb, given the opportunity, boundaries need to be tall enough to prevent escape and an overhang to the inside of the top of the barrier, especially on corners will also help. Remember too that if you have more than one tortoise, one will often climb on top of the other to get out. With large enclosures, or where the tortoise has the run of the garden this rarely happens, so it is best to bear this in mind when building habitats for your tortoise.