Your captive desert tortoise requires a secure habitat consisting of an enclosure with at least one shelter. We recommend an area of at least 18’ x 18’ (324 sq. ft.) which includes a patch of grass around 6’ x 6’. Grasses, along with other native vegetation such as mallows, forbs, and vines are all an excellent diet staple for a desert tortoise.
If you have a dog that expresses interest in your tortoise, the enclosure fence must be high enough to exclude the dog. If you have other turtles or tortoises, you must have a separate enclosure for your desert tortoise. Your pool, spa, or fish pond must also be fenced off separately. Desert tortoises cannot swim, so if they fall into deep water, they will drown.
The tortoise must always be able to get to shade, sun, water, and dry ground. Your entire backyard can serve as the enclosure if it is fenced. If your backyard is not fenced, you can create an enclosure by stacking cinder blocks at least 18” high (you may need 3 or more layers of blocks). If the enclosure wall is constructed of hardware cloth or a similar material, you will need to create a lip along the top edge to ensure the tortoise cannot escape if it climbs the wall.
If your fence is chain link or other types of wire, your tortoise can see out of the enclosure and might try to escape. If this occurs, you can create a visual barrier approximately 16” high against the bottom of the fence using cinder blocks, opaque Plexiglas, or wood.
We recommend self-closing gates so that they are not accidentally left open. Gates should be at least 18” high, with no open space below, so the tortoise cannot easily escape.
Shade is an important component of your tortoise’s habitat because it allows the tortoise to take refuge from the sun when it is outside of its shelter. Shade can be achieved by establishing several medium to large plants within the enclosure. Alternatively, you can create shade in the enclosure by building a shade ramada with an awning.
Do not use dry fertilizer, snail bait, weed or pest sprays or systemic poisons in the enclosure. Many pest control chemicals can kill tortoises, so ask your pest control company to use natural or synthetic pyrethrum sprays, neither of which are harmful to tortoises.