How The Tortoise Garden Grew

I’m an animal lover to the core.  I always have been.  Even as a child I preferred the company of animals rather than that of people.  Growing up I had dogs, cats, turtles, gerbils, and mice. I didn’t have the pleasure of having tortoises in my life until adulthood.  In fact, the first exposure I had to tortoises was at The Baltimore Zoo (now the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore) where I volunteered in the education department back in 2001-2003.  To be honest, they weren’t my favorite animals, but at the time I was not into herps in general (stay tuned for more on that in later posts).  Over the years, as a vet tech, I saw them as patients, but very rarely.  I also cared for them while working for a pet store chain (I’ll eventually get into that as well).  I still didn’t see the big deal.  Then in 2011, I came to The Palm Beach Zoo where I had the opportunity to work with three amazing Aldabra tortoises and well, I fell in love.

The gentle giants quickly became a favorite of mine and I spent every spare minute I had in their exhibit with them.  For me, spending time with them allowed me a little bit of peace in an otherwise chaotic and exhausting life.  With my new found love of tortoises, I began reading up on them as much as I could.  I spent hours searching for any information I could find from basic information, to ideal habitat conditions, to enrichment ideas, etc.  I couldn’t get enough of them.

Every August I attend the National Reptile Breeders’ Expo in Daytona Beach, FL. In 2013, I walked through the doors at 10:00 am when the doors opened and by 10:15 am I had two newborn Sulcatas in tow.  I was elated!  They were so ridiculously cute I couldn’t stop looking at them.  I want to be clear – I DO NOT ADVOCATE IMPLUSE BUYS when it comes to animals.  Though I was not planning to buy these little ones, I was very well aware of what I was getting into when I did decide to take them home with me.  That being said, I still had A LOT of research to do when I came home.  I had spent my time at the zoo caring for tortoises that were native to grasslands and swamps.  I now had a desert species with different needs.  So that’s how I got to where I am now.

Obviously, it’s more than a little difficult for most hobbyists to reproduce the exact habitat conditions of wild Sulcata tortoises.  So, with captive bred animals, herpers have to improvise.  I’m very fortunate that I live in sunny South Florida where they can get natural sunlight all year long.  But, when it comes to food, I don’t really have access to many of the native African plants that these little guys would make a meal of.  Sulcatas are herbivores, known for munching on pretty much any plant they can reach.

My babies, Kada and Tambara, were only about two days old when I brought them home (they both still had their egg tooth).  I happily fed them greens and hay like a good tortoise mom should.  But, over the weeks and months I began to wonder about store bought produce and pesticides. So I began buying organic greens for them.  Now, like most animal people, I am not made of money so as the tortoises began growing (rather rapidly) so did my grocery bill.  I started playing with the idea of starting my own garden so that not only could I decrease my weekly grocery bill, but also so I could know exactly what types of chemicals were being used or not used on the food that these tiny little animals were ingesting.

What’s the big deal about starting a garden, right?  Well, for me it was a very big deal.  You see, some people have a green thumb.  Plants flourish under the care of an elite group of people.  I was not one of the elite, not even close.  In fact, I always told people that I didn’t have a green thumb, but instead a black thumb.  Plants generally died if I so much as looked in their general direction.  I could nurse an animal back from the brink of death, yet suck all of the life out of a thriving plant with one touch.  It was quite remarkable, but something I was not proud of.  So for the sake of my tortoises, I decided to sacrifice a few good plants and try my hand at gardening.  It was a pretty rough start, but over the last year and a half I’ve managed to learn a few things and even grow a couple veggies in my tortoise garden.

So I guess you could say my blog is about tortoises, gardening, and the lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) from both.  Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “How The Tortoise Garden Grew

    • While I have heard of some people offering it to their reptiles, I personally would not recommend it. Aloes contain compounds that encourage or increase bowel movements. So ingestion of those plants can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite most commonly. It has also been reported though that they can cause depression, urine color change, and in rare instances, tremors. I generally suggest that if you have any doubts at all about the safety of a food source, then do not feed it to your pets, regardless of species. It is much better to be safe than sorry. Thank you so much for the question!

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