Horsefield Tortoise Care Guide [Absolute Beginners]

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you ask for a beginner tortoise suggestion, I would say Horsefield tortoise without thinking twice. I believe that this petite creature can make anyone fall in love with tortoises. For all those beginners and intermediate keepers, I am attaching a complete Horsefield tortoise care sheet. 

Horsefield tortoise care guide: 

Enclosure size4ft X 8 ft for adults 
Habitat EquipmentHeating light, UV lamp, substrate, rock, plants, etc.
Temperature Requirement90F – 95F for basking
FoodHerbivorous (Grass, plant leaves, leafy salad, vegetables, fruits, supplements)

Let’s jump into the details.

Horsefield Tortoise: Species Details 

To ensure the best care for your tortoise, you must know it first. That is why I will start this care sheet by giving off the basic information on the Horsefield tortoise. It will help you understand the pet and its needs better.

What Other Names Do Horsefield Tortoises Have? 

I have seen people calling Horsefield tortoises by 2/3 different names. But don’t get confused by that. The common names of this Horsefield tortoise are, 

  • Russian tortoise
  • Afghan tortoise
  • Four clawed tortoise 
  • Central Asian tortoise
  • Steppe tortoise
  • Russian steppe tortoise 

Horsefield Tortoise Appearance: What Do Horsefield Tortoises Look Like?

The petite look of a Horsefield tortoise will make anyone fall in love with this species at first glance. This tortoise has a unique carapace shape, which is flat, low, and quite round.

Well, the shell color of the species can vary from olive, green, or black to brown. With years, the bright colors on the scute borders fade to yellow. You will find irregular black patch patterns on the shell.

Plastrons of the Horsefield tortoises have a similar color and design to the carapace. Again, the skin of these tortoises is also closer to brown or yellow. 

Horsefield Tortoise Natural Habitat: Where Do Horsefield Tortoise Come From? 

Horsefield tortoises come from Central Asian countries. Their habitat is spread throughout Russia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran, and parts of China. These tortoises prefer living on hillside slopes and mountainsides.

Moving to the weather, Horsefield tortoises are comfortable in hot and arid environments. They can suit well in dry and desert surroundings too. 

Horsefield Tortoise Size: How Big Do Horsefield Tortoises Get?

The Horsefield tortoises are one of the 6 smallest tortoise species you can adopt as pets. A baby Horsefield tortoise is born about an inch. During the first few years, the hatchling experiences a first growth, almost 1 – 2 inches every year. 

A healthy adult Horsefield tortoise will grow up to 10 inches. Its average weight can be between 3.5 – 4.5 kgs. 

Again, there is not much growth difference between the captive and wild Horsefield tortoise.

Horsefield Tortoise Lifespan: How Long Do Horsefield Tortoises Live?

Your Horsefield tortoise will live between 40 to 50 years in captivity with appropriate care. But you can easily stretch the lifespan to 75 – 80 years. Different reports claim that a wild Horsefield tortoise is blessed with a life expectancy of up to 100 years. 

Generally, the lifespan of a tortoise can never be estimated beforehand. The longevity depends on the pet’s genetics, diet, surroundings, and care sheet. 

Horsefield Tortoise Behavior And Temperament: Do Horsefield Tortoises Bite? 

You will find Horsefield tortoises as docile and peaceful creatures. The pets will occasionally interact with the owners and other fellow brothers. But do not take this softness for granted.

Horsefield tortoises can get aggressive and violent if the situation demands it. The pets will initiate an attack by biting the opponent whenever they feel threatened. 

Well, Horsefield tortoises can not bite off fingers like snapping turtles. But these tortoises have sharp beaks and razor-like jaws, perfect for biting off a chunk of flesh. 

Usually, male tortoises show more aggressiveness towards females and young ones. Their violence spikes up in the mating season.

How Much Does a Horsefield Tortoise Cost? 

Luckily, the Horsefield tortoises are completely affordable. A baby tortoise’s price can be as low as $50 and go lower. However, this rate may touch $450 or more for a healthy adult. 

The food cost of the Horsefield tortoises is also low. For example, you can wrap up meals for less than $1 every day. 

Horsefield Care Sheet: Everything You Need To Know 

Now that you are familiar with the Horsefield tortoise and its nature, we can move to its home and surrounding requirements.

Horsefield Tortoise Habitat Size 

You can raise a Horsefield tortoise in a tank, a.k.a. vivarium, or on a tortoise table. Of course, an outdoor habitat is also an option.

If you go with the vivarium, make sure the dimensions are at least 4ft X 8 ft for the adults. The young Horsefiled tortoises can adjust in a 6ft X 6 ft tank. In both cases, the sides should be 1 ft. 

A wooden vivarium is a good option as it can regulate the pen temperature more efficiently. Also, the ventilation system in this enclosure system is better. 

A tortoise table, on the other hand, is a popular choice. But, of course, the table may not offer insulation or heat regulation control.

The commercial tortoise tables come in limited sizes, but you can customize one for your pet. The minimum table size for a Horsefield tortoise is 7ft X 5ft with 8 – 12 inches of sides.

Substrate: Do Horsefield Tortoises Need Substrate? 

Tortoises of all species require substrates for several reasons. Digging the soil and making a burrow are common habits of any tortoise. Horsefield tortoises are no exception. In fact, you can tag these Horsefield tortoises as burrow-dwellers. 

See also  Tortoise Respiratory Infection: Causes, Prevention, Treatment

Substrate requirement varies with the tortoise species. As for the Horsefield tortoises, they prefer a sandy and dry substrate. That is why owners find it a good idea to mix topsoil with sand in a 70:30 ratio to prepare bedding for these tortoises. 

Other suitable substrates for Russian tortoises are cypress mulch, bark, shredded aspen, coco coir, etc. No matter which one you choose, make sure the bedding does not retain humidity too much. It will dampen the pen, but the Horsefield tortoises prefer a dry enclosure. 

You can use commercial substrates as long as they are safe and non-toxic. In my previous article, I listed the top 5 substrates for pet tortoises

After selecting the substrate, you need to decide on the height. Bedding at least 4 inches is recommended for the Horsefield tortoises. Increasing the height allows the tortoises to dig the soil more satisfactorily. 

Tortoises need substrate not only for burrowing. They also dig the beddings to cool off the heat, calm their nerves, and for nesting purposes. 

One more thing. You need to keep replacing the old substrate every month if required. Also, change the damp bedding if a bacterial outbreak occurs. 

Heating Sources: Do Horsefield Tortoises Need Heating Lamps?

Horsefield tortoises depend on environmental heat to function in their bodies and daily lives. That is why pets must have access to proper heating sources. 

In outdoor arrangements, Horsefield tortoises receive direct heat from the sun. So, they need no artificial sources to warm up their bodies during the summer.

However, in the winter, the regional temperature drops. Though the Horsefield tortoises can soak heat under the sun during the day, the nights become unbearable in the outdoor pens. Therefore, a heating pad or heating rock installed in the outside enclosure is necessary for winter. 

Now, let’s talk about indoor arrangements. 

The inside enclosure temperature does not significantly change with the outdoor weather. So, a heating light is mandatory for both summer and winter seasons. This bulb helps you to reach the comfortable temperature range for the Horsefield tortoises to keep them functional. 

You will notice a gradient of the temperature inside any tortoise enclosure. Here is a heat requirement summary for Horsefield tortoises, 

Basking Temperature Daytime Temperature Nighttime Temperature  
90 – 95F

(It can reach 100F depending on the tortoise’s preference)
Above 80F

(The daytime temperature should not drop below 70F)
70 – 75F

(You can provide a temperature of 65F if your tortoise is comfortable)

You can create a temperature gradient inside the tortoise enclosure by installing the lamp at an angle. This way, the heat will be maximum under the light, which is the basking zone. The temperature will drop as you move away from the basking dock. 

Horsefield tortoises can move from warm to cool zones as per their requirements. 

Besides installing a basking lamp, you need to place a thermometer to track the temperature. You can also digitalize the system by setting up a thermostat to regulate the temperature as required. 

Finally, keep the heating lamp on for 10 – 12 hours daily. Tortoises do not require heat at night unless your pets are outdoors or sick. Sometimes, the hatchlings also need overnight heating on their first few days.

UV Lighting: Do Horsefield Tortoises Require UV Lights?

After ensuring proper temperature, it is time to focus on the UV requirements of your Horsefield tortoises. Any tortoise requires UVA and UVB to maintain mental stability and build a strong posture. 

The UVA here ensures that the pets are calm and relaxed. These rays also promote healthy digestion, appetite, and an uninterrupted sleep cycle in the Horsefield tortoises.

Likewise, UVB exposures also contribute to a healthy digestive system and help the tortoises build strong immunity. But the primary role of these rays is to develop solid shells and bones. The UVB does this by producing vitamin D3 in the tortoise’s body. 

Tortoises can efficiently absorb calcium when there is a sufficient amount of vitamin D in the system. Therefore, you get a Horsefield tortoise with a healthy shell and bone structure. 

What if you do not provide the tortoises with UV light? Well, for starters, pets will always be cracky, avoid food, and be vulnerable to diseases. Next, the lack of calcium and vitamin D will lead to soft shells and other bone-related issues.

In an outdoor setup, the sun is the ultimate source of UV rays and heat. But you need to switch to artificial light for an indoor vivarium and table. 

You will find different types of UV lamps available on the market. Fluorescent UV lights are a market hit right now, especially the T5 tubes. T8 fluorescent tubes are also good for the indoor Horsefield tortoise vivarium. 

Other alternatives, like sole UV bulbs with different percentages, are also accessible. The Horsefield tortoises come from a dry and arid environment, so lamps with 10% UV will work fine. You can also go for the heating with UV, 2 in 1 light. 

Like the heating lamp, the UV bulb should serve only 10 – 12 hours daily. The UV efficiency of the lights deteriorates over the months. Hence, you should replace the existing bulb with a new one every 6 months.

Do Horsefield Tortoises View Light At Night? 

Tortoises have limited night vision. Hence, pets can move from one place to another in the dark without needing any light. 

So, the tortoises will feel no stress or hassle if you turn the enclosure lights off during the night. In fact, it helps pets to sleep uninterrupted. 

You may notice owners installing night lights in the Horsefield tortoise enclosure. While the tortoises do not need the lamp, it allows the keepers to observe the pets at night. 

Therefore, you do not have to set up a night light in a pen. If you do, make sure the lamp spreads only a low-level brightness and radiates minimum heat. 

Do Horsefield Tortoises Like A Humid Environment? 

As mentioned earlier, Horsefield tortoises are from deserted and arid regions. For this reason, the species require such beddings which retain minimum humidity.

All this indicates that Horsefield tortoises do not prefer a highly humid habitat. Instead, a humidity level closer to 40 – 50% will be fine for these creatures. Moisture levels above this cause the pets discomfort and increase the risk of infectious diseases. 

Lightly misting the substrate every day will fulfill the humidity requirements. You can use a humidifier to maintain the moisture level too. Finally, install a hydrometer to track the humidity percentage inside the pen.

Should You Decorate The Horsefield Tortoise Pen? 

Of course, tortoises could not care less about the tank decorations. But to pull off a wild-like and visually aesthetic vivarium, you need decorations. For example, small plants, rocks, medium-sized pebbles, etc. 

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When you house a tortoise, you can not go with fake plants. It is because your little pet will eventually chew the plastic and fall sick. Hence, plant small herbs or add grasses inside the vivarium. A tortoise garden is recommended if you have an outdoor enclosure.

Plants and bushes work as excellent hiding spots for tortoises too.

When it comes to rocks, select the ones with smooth edges and medium heights. Otherwise, the tortoises will get themselves hurt. Climbing those stones is a play for these pets and a form of workout.

Horsefield Tortoise Diet: What Do Horsefield Tortoises Eat? 

Like most tortoise species, the Horsefield tortoises depend only on greens. The creatures require no protein at all. If you offer the Russian tortoises insects or worms, the pets will suffer from diarrhea and vomiting. 

In short, Horsefield tortoises prefer high-fiber, low-calorie, and low-carb meals. The greens should not contain oxalate or any toxic elements. Again, the meal should have a balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorus (3:1). 

Regarding the tortoise’s meals, 70 – 80% are vegetables, grasses, leaves, and plants. The pet does like fruits. But too much fruity treat includes high sugar, leading the tortoise to a bad stomach ache, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

Hays are the dry form of grass and contain high fiber. This food item is also on the favorite list of the Horsefield tortoise.

Safe and nutritious items for Horsefield tortoises are, 

  • Bell pepper 
  • Brussel tops 
  • Bindweed 
  • Carrot 
  • Pumpkin 
  • Hibiscus 
  • Endive 
  • Chickweed 
  • Corn poppy 
  • Clover 
  • Henbit 
  • Green leafy vegetable
  • Coriander 
  • Sweet pepper 
  • Escarole 
  • Courgette 
  • Mallow 
  • Rose petals 
  • Curly kale 
  • Celecy 
  • Dandelion 
  • Chicory 
  • Hosta 
  • Turnip greens 
  • Hawkbit 
  • Honeysuckle 
  • Sunflower 
  • Goat’s beard 
  • Leafy salad
  • Gave leaves 
  • Parsley 
  • Cactus pads 
  • Plantains 
  • Parsnip 
  • Rocket 
  • Spring greens 
  • Voila 
  • White nettle 
  • Nipple wort 
  • Cucumber 
  • Sedum 
  • Watercress 
  • Mulberry leaves 
  • Collard greens 
  • Bermuda grass
  • Rye grass
  • Orchard grass
  • Fescue grass
  • Alfalfa grass
  • Blue grass
  • Strawberry 
  • Mulberry 
  • Pears 
  • Apples 
  • Watermelon 
  • Banana 
  • Papaya 
  • Tomato, etc.

You can add any items from the list to your Horsefield tortoise meals. Of course, feel free to modify the list and spice up the diet by bringing varieties. In any case, check the nutrient percentages of the food beforehand. 

Now you know what to feed your Horsefield tortoise. But you should have the knowledge about the foods to avoid too. The items you must not offer your Russian tortoises are, 

  • Iceberg lettuce 
  • Tulip 
  • Begonias 
  • Foxgloves 
  • Buttercups 
  • Daffodils 
  • Ivy 
  • Milkweed
  • Hyacinth 
  • Dog food
  • High percentage protein etc.,  

Supplements: Do Horsefield Tortoises Need Supplements?

Supplements are the backup to fight any mineral deficiency in tortoises. For example, imagine your tortoise lacks calcium. Even with a high-quality UV lamp and sufficient vitamin D3, your pet will suffer from MBD or shell diseases. 

Therefore, you need to sprinkle the daily meals with calcium, vitamin, and mineral supplements. Calcium is available in both powder and block forms.

Some tortoises love nibbling at the cuttlefish, while others find its smell unpleasant. Again, offering cuttle bones has benefits. Biting on the block can control the overgrowth of beaks in Horsefield tortoises

Water: Do Horsefield Tortoises Drink Water?  

Horsefield tortoises may not be the master of the pond. But like all life on earth, they also require water to stay hydrated. 

Keeping a shallow bowl in the pen corner is the best way to offer water to your tortoises. The pets will drink from the pan whenever they are thirsty. 

There are other ways of keeping the Horsefield tortoises hydrated too. For example, installing a humidifier in a pen or soaking the tortoise. 

Soaking the tortoises in lukewarm water regularly is mandatory to maintain good health. It is because these pets mostly pass their urination and feces during baths. You can follow the detailed guide on how to soak a Horsefield tortoise from my previous article. 

Horsefield Tortoise Meal Quantity And Frequency 

We often do not know how much or how often to feed the Horsefield tortoise. As a result, we end up overfeeding the pets.

I know owners have different theories when it comes to the feeding habit of the tortoises. Yet, I am obliged to tell you the ideal feeding routine the vets approve. 

For quantity, you follow the shell method. As per this rule, feed the tortoise the exact amount required to fill its shell if empty. 

Again, for a feeding routine, daily meals are perfect for baby tortoises. You can switch to a 5-day-a-week diet routine as your pets grow young. 

Horsefield Tortoise Hibernation Care 

Once the temperature drops below 60F and reaches 45F, the Horsefield tortoises switch to energy-saving mode. The creatures slow their metabolism, avoid food, and stop daily activities. You will find the pets dozing off now and then or sleeping in the burrow.

In other terms, the Horsefield tortoises will prepare for hibernation. Tortoises usually hibernate during winter when the temperature is below tolerable. 

I personally do not recommend hibernating the captive tortoises. It is because owners often can not replicate the wild hibernation scenario. As a result, the tortoise suffers from post-brumation diseases and permanent physical damage. 

If you do not want to hibernate your Horsefield tortoise, make sure the heating and lighting arrangements are in order. For an outdoor habitat, install heating pads on the enclosure walls. You will find the winter care of tortoises from this link

However, if you decide to hibernate the species, here is what you should do, 

  1. Only select the adult Horsefield tortoises for the hibernation process. 
  2. Prepare for hibernation 6 – 8 months before.
  3. Feed the tortoise a balanced diet and track its weight. 
  4. Take the tortoise to a vet once a month for a fitness checkup. 
  5. As the winter approaches, reduce the meal portion gradually. You need to starve the pet 4 weeks before hibernation. 
  6. You can hibernate the tortoise in the fridge at an ideal temperature or build a burrow outdoors. But for an outdoor spot, you need to work on security to keep the predators away. 
  7. As the winter finishes, start waking up the tortoise by raising the temperature gradually. Daily soaks also help.
  8. Catch up with a vet and put the tortoise for a health checkup. 

Horsefield Tortoise Mating And Breeding Care 

Horsefield tortoises mature at the age of 10. The males usually become sexually active earlier than the females. 

If you intend to breed your Horsefield tortoises, choose the pair first. The couple must be physically fit and get along with each other. 

Spring is the mating season for Horsefield tortoises, lasting from March to April. During this season, the male will try different acts to attract the females. For example, head bobbing, whistling, chasing, biting, mounting, etc. The pair will be involved in mating only if the female shows interest. 

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During the copulation, the male mounts the female and holds the partner with a solid grip. The males often aggressively act towards the female during mating, leaving her injured. For example, constant ramming and biting can make the female bleed. To avoid mating-induced injuries, you can put multiple females against one male. 

Now, separate the pair immediately after successful copulation. The female will soon show signs of carrying eggs. Usually, the gestation period for gravid tortoises lasts up to 120 days. 

As the nesting time approaches, the mother tortoise looks for a suitable place to lay eggs. You can build a nesting spot or attach a commercial nest to the enclosure. The nesting soils contain a generous mixture of topsoil with sand.

Generally, the female Horsefield tortoise lays 3 – 6 eggs per clutch. After depositing her eggs, she covers the hole and leaves her place forever. 

After a day or two, you can collect the eggs and put them into the incubator. A consistent temperature of 87F will help the clutch to hatch within 120 days. As the baby emerges, put them in a separate furnished habitat. 

I have discussed the mating process of tortoises in brief here. This is a must-read for you if you want a detailed guide to breeding Horsefield tortoises

Can You House Other Tortoises With Horsefield Tortoise?

Horsefield tortoises live peacefully when you leave them alone. But if you keep multiple tortoises in a single enclosure, there might be a fight. 

Tortoises despise tankmates, especially the males. When you house 2 adult male Horsefield tortoises, they will fight each other for power and dominance. However, females and young Horsefield tortoises, on the other hand, can manage to live together.

Give this article a read to discover the bright and dark sides of housing two tortoises together.

Horsefield Tortoise Medical Care

Though Horsefield tortoises are sturdy creatures, they can still fall sick. Any kind of illness makes these pets vulnerable and weak. If the tortoises go untreated for a long, they can even die

Well, I am sure you do not want your lovely pet to end up dead. Therefore, the primary knowledge of common tortoise diseases, symptoms, and treatments is mandatory for all owners. 

6 potential Horsefield tortoise health problems are, 

1. Hypovitaminosis:

Lack of vitamin A in the meal causes hypovitaminosis. Tortoises suffer from sunken eyes, puffy eyes, lethargy, mouth rot, respiratory illness, etc., because of vitamin A deficiency. Antibiotic shots and meals rich in vitamin A are recommended for this disease.

2. Mouth Rot:

Horsefield tortoises with low immunity fall victim to stomatitis or mouth rot. It occurs as the harmful bacteria in the oral cavity outgrows in number.

Mouth inflammation, mouth ulcer, white discharge from the cavity, etc., are symptoms of this disease. Daily cleanup with an anti-infectious solution and feeding antibiotics are the only cure for mouth rot in tortoises. 

3. Herpes Virus:

Horsefield tortoises often suffer from the herpes virus. The sick tortoise exhibits signs like drooling, swelling, runny nose, trouble breathing, etc. Herpivirus can be deadly if it is not treated immediately.

4. Parasitic Attack:

A filthy habitat is the breeding ground for different parasites. These organisms can get into the tortoise’s system and make them sick. Vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, appetite loss, etc., are common signs of parasites. Maintaining husbandry hygiene and deworming pets are necessary to avoid this condition. 

5. Shell Diseases:

A Horsefield tortoise may suffer from different shell conditions. For example, pyramiding, shell rot, soft shell, MBD, etc. Each disease here has distinguished symptoms, causes, and treatments.

For example, overfeeding is responsible for pyramiding. A bumpy and abnormal shell growth indicates the pet suffers from pyramiding. Though this condition is irreversible, you can stop the irregular scute development with a strict diet. 

Again, scratches or cracks on the scutes are behind the shell rot. The scutes will rot if any organism enters the tortoise’s body through these entrances.

You will notice black spots around the wound and white discharge coming out of it. Cleaning the injury with antibiotic solutions and keeping the tortoise in a dry, warm area can heal the shell rot. 

Finally, MBD occurs when there are insufficient UV rays for the tortoises. This leads to limited vitamin D3 production and calcium absorption. Therefore, the pet grows low immunity and weak bone posture. Ensuring a high-quality UV source with a balanced diet is the ideal treatment for curing MBD.

6. Respiratory Illness:

Prolonged hypovitaminosis often leads to respiratory illness. The lack of vitamin A makes the tortoises vulnerable to other diseases. Thus, the pets can easily get under bacterial, viral, or fungal attack.

If the organisms infect the respiratory tract, the tortoises suffer from respiratory illness. The sick pets show symptoms like open-mouth breathing, wheezing, coughing, lethargy, nasal discharge, etc. Ignoring respiratory sickness for too long can turn into deadly pneumonia and damage the lungs. 

Take the tortoise to a professional if you notice any of the mentioned symptoms. 

Do Horsefield Tortoises Need Special Handling? 

Though Horsefield tortoises are docile, you can not count them as social creatures. These pets do not like frequent touching or petting at all. In fact, rough handling can actually stress the tortoises. 

So, you have to be very careful when touching or lifting the tortoises. Make sure you have a solid grip on the pets. The tortoises may resist your touch by back kicking or initiating a bite, do not lose your grip anyway. 

A stressed or panicked tortoise often looks for a hiding spot. Leave the tortoise alone for the time being, and the pet will return to its routine life once relaxed. 

Can You Arrange Entertainment Programs For Horsefield Tortoises? 

Different research has proved that tortoises are intelligent and capable of training. You can try the fun tasks with your Horsefield tortoises to see their progress. For example, you can buy wooden mazes and let the pets solve the puzzle. 

Similarly, balls, target sticks, pushing toys, etc., are entertaining for the tortoises. Offer the pets rewards to motivate and encourage them throughout the play. 

Are Horsefield Tortoises Good Pets? 

Do I think Horsefield tortoises are good pets? Well, I do, and I have several points to back up my statement. 

First, Horsefield tortoises are small and can thrive in a small 4ft X 8 ft adult enclosure. Therefore, I do not have to manage an enormous space for them. 

Again, the pets are totally herbivorous. As a result, I have to spend less than one dollar on their food every day. 

Moving to care and handling, Horsefield tortoises are total sweethearts. They interact with the owners, and even the females or hatchings allow tankmates. However, crowded habitats and frequent handling will stress the pets. 

Finally, the pricing of the Horsefield tortoise is totally on point. It is neither cheap nor expensive. 

If you consider all these points, Horsefield tortoises are perfect for all levels of tortoise keepers.

Before You Go 

While the Horsefield tortoise is one of the small tortoise species, the Sulcata tortoise is the 3rd largest. Luckily, you can adopt Sulcata tortoises as pets too. Check out the latest tips and tricks on the Sulcata tortoise care sheet below. 

Sulcata Tortoise Care Sheet: Beginner To Advanced 

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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