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How to Set Up an Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure

Creating an outdoor tortoise enclosure for your tortoise can provide a natural and stimulating environment outdoors for them to thrive in. This approach is a good idea for those looking to enhance their tortoise’s living space.

A well-designed outdoor tortoise enclosure will keep your pet tortoise safe and healthy outdoors while offering ground-level access, ample open space, fresh air, and unfiltered sunlight allowing them to explore, bask, and hide.

Before we get into the steps, there are a few things to consider:

Types of Outdoor Tortoise Enclosures: Ready-to-Use and Convertible Options

While building a custom outdoor tortoise enclosure from scratch is an excellent option, there are also a variety of pre-built or easily convertible outdoor enclosure options available on the market. These can save you time and effort while still providing a suitable natural habitat for your pet. Here are some popular choices for outdoor tortoise enclosures:

Pre-Built Enclosures

Pre-built enclosures, like the Aivituvin tortoise house, offer a convenient solution for tortoise keepers.

Tortoise Houses

Zoo Med Wood Tortoise House

Description:

Tortoise houses are small, pre-built wooden enclosures with a hinged roof for easy access. They often come with a separate sleeping and basking area.

Pros:

Easy to set up, portable, and suitable for smaller tortoise species or juveniles.

Cons:

Limited space, may not provide adequate room for larger species or multiple tortoises, and may require additional fencing to prevent escapes.

Tortoise Pens

PawHut 64

Description: Tortoise pens are larger, pre-fabricated enclosures made from wood or metal, often with a mesh or wire top. They typically provide more space than tortoise houses.

Pros:

Easy to set up, offer more space than tortoise houses, suitable for a range of tortoise species.

Cons:

May still be too small for larger species or multiple tortoises, and may require additional features like hiding spots, basking areas, and dig barriers.

Convertible Options

Greenhouses or Cold Frames

Greenhouse full of plants and trees in a back garden
Greenhouse full of plants and trees in a back garden

Description: Greenhouses, functioning as cold frames, are particularly beneficial for Mediterranean tortoises, as they mimic their natural environment.

Greenhouses or cold frames can be modified to provide a comfortable and controlled environment for your tortoise. They are especially useful in regions with cooler temperatures or fluctuating weather conditions.

Pros:

Provides excellent climate control, protection from the elements, and ample sunlight exposure.

Cons:

May require significant modification, such as adding ventilation, hiding spots, and basking areas, and ensuring the space is escape-proof.

Raised Garden Beds

Empty raised garden bed
Empty raised garden bed

Description: Raised garden beds are wooden or metal-framed structures that can be filled with substrate and planted with edible plants. They can be easily converted into an outdoor tortoise enclosure by adding walls, a roof, and other necessary features.

It’s akin to creating a mini indoor enclosure or tortoise table, but within your outdoor area.

Pros:

Easy to set up and modify, provides a natural and enriching environment, and promotes foraging behavior.

Cons:

Limited space, may not be suitable for larger species or multiple tortoises, and requires additional components like hiding spots and basking areas.

Children’s Playhouses

Outdoor kids playhouse on a well manicured lawn with a fence and bushes in the background
Outdoor kids playhouse on a well-manicured lawn with a fence and bushes in the background

Description: Wooden or plastic children’s playhouses can be repurposed as a tortoise enclosure by removing doors, windows, or other unnecessary components and adding necessary features like walls, a roof, and a substrate.

Pros:

Sturdy and spacious and provides a customizable and secure space for your tortoise.

Cons:

May require significant modification, and may be too large or cumbersome for some yards or gardens.

Types of Fencing for Outdoor Tortoise Enclosures

Options range from wooden houses to large reptile cages with metal mesh, suitable for different tortoise species like the desert tortoise or tropical species.

Choosing the right type of fencing is essential for creating a secure and safe environment for your tortoise. The fencing should be sturdy, durable, and escape-proof. Here are some common types of fencing options for outdoor tortoise enclosures:

Wood Fencing

Close up of wood fence in back yard
Close up of wood fence in back yard

Pros:

  • Aesthetically pleasing and natural-looking
  • Provides a visual barrier for both the tortoise and other animals
  • It can be customized to different heights and sizes

Cons:

  • May require regular maintenance (painting or sealing) to prevent rot and deterioration
  • Can be damaged by persistent digging or scratching
  • Heavier and more challenging to install compared to other options

Vinyl Fencing

White vinyl fence surrounding back yard
White vinyl fence surrounding back yard

Pros:

  • Low maintenance and long-lasting
  • Resistant to rot, pests, and weather damage
  • Easy to clean and disinfect
  • Cons:
    More expensive than wood or chain-link fencing
  • It provides little to no visual barrier
  • Can be damaged by persistent digging or scratching
Close up of a chain link fence with bright green grass in the background
Close up of a chain link fence with bright green grass in the background

Pros:

  • Affordable and widely available
  • Sturdy and secure, providing good protection against predators
  • Can be easily customized with privacy slats or screens to create a visual barrier

Cons:

  • Less aesthetically pleasing compared to wood or vinyl fencing
  • May require additional reinforcement at the base to prevent digging and escapes
  • It provides little to no visual barrier on its own

Hardware Cloth Fencing (chicken wire)

Close up of hardware cloth fence surrounding an existing garden with lettuce
Close up of hardware cloth fence surrounding an existing garden with lettuce

Pros:

  • Sturdy and durable, providing excellent protection against predators
  • Can be easily shaped and customized to fit your enclosure needs
  • The small mesh size prevents tortoises from getting stuck or injured

Cons:

  • Less aesthetically pleasing compared to wood or vinyl fencing
  • May require additional support or framing
  • It provides little to no visual barrier

When selecting a fencing type for your outdoor tortoise enclosure, consider factors such as your budget, the size of your tortoise, and your specific enclosure needs.

Remember that tortoises are escape artists, so it is essential to choose a fencing material that will effectively contain your pet and protect them from predators.

Additionally, consider adding a dig barrier around the perimeter of the enclosure to discourage your tortoise from digging under the fencing and escaping.

Keeping Predators Out of Your Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure

Protecting your tortoise from predators is a critical aspect of creating a safe and secure outdoor environment. Here are some tips and strategies for keeping predators out of your outdoor tortoise enclosure:

Use Sturdy Fencing

As discussed earlier, using sturdy fencing materials, such as wood, vinyl, chain-link, or hardware cloth, can help deter predators from entering your tortoise’s enclosure. Ensure the fencing is at least 18 inches high to prevent climbing predators from entering the enclosure.

Install a Dig Barrier

Many predators are excellent diggers, and so are tortoises. Install a dig barrier around the perimeter of the enclosure to discourage both your tortoise and predators from digging under the fencing. You can use chicken wire or a similar material, burying it about 12 inches deep around the enclosure.

Cover the Enclosure

Adding a cover made from hardware cloth or a sturdy wire mesh can prevent predators such as birds of prey, raccoons, or cats from accessing your tortoise’s enclosure. The cover should be securely attached to the fencing and have small mesh openings to prevent predators from reaching through.

Use Locks and Latches

Ensure any gates or access points to the enclosure are secured with locks or latches that cannot be easily manipulated by predators like raccoons. This will help prevent unwanted visitors from entering the enclosure.

Provide Hiding Places

Provide plenty of hiding places, such as hollow logs, large rocks, or commercially available hides, for your tortoise to take refuge in if they feel threatened. This will give your tortoise a sense of security and a place to escape from potential predators.

Install Motion-Activated Lights

Predators are often deterred by sudden bursts of light. Installing motion-activated lights around your tortoise’s enclosure can help scare away nocturnal predators that may be attracted to the area.

Keep the Area Clean

Regularly clean and maintain the enclosure, removing any leftover food, feces, or debris that may attract pests or predators.

Predator Deterrents

Consider using predator deterrents, such as ultrasonic devices or predator decoys, to help keep potential threats away from your tortoise’s enclosure. These devices emit sounds or display visual cues that can deter some predators from coming too close.

Monitor Your Tortoise

Regularly observe your tortoise and its behavior to ensure it remains safe, healthy, and free from threats. Be prepared to intervene or modify your enclosure setup if you notice signs of predator activity or other potential dangers.By following these tips and strategies, you can create a secure and predator-proof environment for your tortoise to thrive in their outdoor enclosure.

Determining the best enclosure size is crucial, as it directly impacts your tortoise’s health, whether they are indoor tortoises or enjoy outdoor time. A properly sized enclosure allows them to engage in natural behaviors, such as roaming, digging, and basking, while also preventing stress and health issues caused by confinement. Here’s a guide to the recommended enclosure sizes based on the size of your tortoise:

Small Tortoises (up to 8 inches in length)

Hermanns tortoise walking through grass and clover
Hermanns tortoise walking through grass and clover

Examples: Russian tortoises, Hermann’s tortoises, Greek tortoises

  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 10-15 square feet (e.g., 5 ft x 2 ft or 3 ft x 5 ft)

  • Ideal Enclosure Size: 20-30 square feet or larger
Small tortoises may be easier to accommodate in outdoor enclosures, but they still require ample space to roam and explore. The larger the enclosure, the more opportunities your tortoise will have for natural behaviors and exercise.

Medium Tortoises (8-18 inches in length)

Red footed tortoise eating greens in an outdoor enclosure
Red-footed tortoise eating greens in an outdoor enclosure

Examples: Leopard tortoises, Red-footed tortoises, Yellow-footed tortoises

  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 30-50 square feet (e.g., 6 ft x 5 ft or 10 ft x 5 ft)

  • Ideal Enclosure Size: 50-100 square feet or larger
Medium-sized tortoises need a significant amount of space to stay healthy and content. Their enclosures should have enough room for multiple hiding spots, basking areas, and vegetation, allowing them to engage in a variety of natural behaviors.

Large Tortoises (over 18 inches in length)

Front view of an adult sulcata tortoise in an outdoor enclosure
Front view of an adult sulcata tortoise in an outdoor enclosure

Examples: Sulcata tortoises, Aldabra tortoises, Galapagos tortoises

  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 100-200 square feet (e.g., 10 ft x 10 ft or 20 ft x 10 ft)

  • Ideal Enclosure Size: 200-500 square feet or larger
Large tortoises require substantial outdoor enclosures to accommodate their size and activity levels. These enclosures should provide ample space for movement, exploration, and various natural behaviors while also including multiple hiding spots, basking areas, and plants.

Keep in mind that these size recommendations are the minimum requirements. If possible, always provide your tortoise with a larger enclosure to encourage natural behaviors, promote exercise, and reduce stress. Also, remember to adjust the size of the enclosure if you have more than one tortoise, ensuring each animal has enough space to coexist comfortably.

Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure Setup Steps

Step 1: Choose the Right Location

Size: Ensure that the space you allocate for the enclosure is large enough for your tortoise to roam and explore. A minimum of 10 square feet per adult tortoise is recommended, but larger is always better.

Sunlight: Select a location that receives direct sunlight to provide your tortoise with the necessary heat and UVB exposure.

Shade: Ensure there are shaded areas in the enclosure to protect your tortoise from overheating.Drainage: Choose a spot with good drainage to prevent your tortoise’s home from becoming waterlogged during rain.

Step 2: Build the EnclosureMaterials:

Untreated wooden planks or bricks for the wallsHardware cloth or sturdy wire mesh for the topLockable gate or doorDig barrier (if necessary)

Construction:

Construct a sturdy perimeter wall at least 18 inches high to prevent your tortoise from climbing out.

Install a dig barrier around the perimeter of the enclosure to discourage your tortoise from digging under the walls. You can use chicken wire or a similar material, burying it about 12 inches deep.

Add a lockable gate or door for easy access to the enclosure.

Cover the enclosure with a hardware cloth or sturdy wire mesh to protect your tortoise from predators.

Step 3: Create an Enriching Environment

In creating an enriching environment, consider the enclosure’s particular area, ensuring adequate height for climbing and a smooth surface for your tortoise to move on.

Elements to include:

Hiding spots: Provide hiding spots, such as hollow logs, large rocks, or commercially available hides, to give your tortoise a sense of security.

Basking spots: Create a basking area with flat rocks or a raised platform. Make sure it is located in a sunny spot.

Water source: Provide a shallow water dish for your tortoise to drink from and soak in. Be sure to clean and refill the dish regularly.

Substrate: Use a natural substrate, such as a mixture of topsoil, coco coir, and sand, to cover the enclosure floor.

Add plants: Plant edible plants, such as dandelions, clover, and hibiscus, to provide your tortoise with natural foraging opportunities.

Climbing opportunities: Incorporate rocks and logs to encourage climbing and exploration.

Supplemental heating: For tortoises requiring more protection or during colder months, consider adding a radiant heat panel or a side panel to the tortoise cage. This setup can provide warmth on winter nights and ensure the safety of species like Burmese star tortoises or golden Mesopotamian Greek tortoises.

Step 4: Monitor and Maintain the Enclosure

Regularly clean and disinfect the enclosure, removing feces and old food.

Monitor the temperature and humidity levels to ensure they are within the appropriate range for your tortoise species.

Inspect the enclosure for wear and tear, repairing or replacing any damaged components.

Observe your tortoise’s behavior to ensure they are happy and healthy in their new environment.

Also, look out for signs of respiratory infections, especially during the outdoor season or after winter rains.

Video of a DIY tortoise enclosure

Infographic

Questions about keeping tortoises outside

Can a tortoise be kept outside?

Yes, a tortoise can be kept outside, and many tortoise keepers prefer to house their tortoises outdoors in natural environments. Outdoor enclosures can provide ample space for most tortoises to engage in natural behaviors, promoting their overall health and well-being.

How big should an outdoor tortoise enclosure be?

The recommended enclosure size of an outdoor tortoise enclosure should be based on the size of the tortoise. For adult many tortoises, a minimum of 10 square feet per tortoise is recommended, but larger is always better.

Medium-sized tortoises, such as red-footed and leopard tortoises, require 30-50 square feet, while large tortoises, like Sulcatas and Aldabras, need at least 100-200 square feet or more.

How do I keep my outdoor tortoise habitat warm?

To keep your outdoor tortoise habitat warm, especially in cooler weather, you can use various heating sources such as ceramic heat emitters, heating panels, or radiant heat panels.

These heating sources should be installed in the basking area and sleeping quarters to maintain appropriate temperatures. In warmer climates, providing a well-insulated and draft-free sleeping area can help retain heat during cooler nights.

What temperature can a tortoise go outside?

The ambient temperature a tortoise can go outside depends on the specific species and their natural habitat. Most tortoises can be safely kept in outdoor areas when daytime temperatures are between 70°F and 90°F (21°C and 32°C).

However, tortoises should be brought inside or provided with supplemental heating sources if temperatures drop significantly below their species’ preferred temperature range.

Wrapping Up

By following these steps, you can create a safe and stimulating outdoor tortoise enclosure that will keep your pet healthy, active, and content. Remember to consider the unique needs of your tortoise species and adjust the enclosure as needed. Regular maintenance and observation will ensure your tortoise thrives in their new outdoor home.

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