Susan M. Tellem
Giant Sulcata Tortoises Overwhelm
American Tortoise Rescue Calls for a Halt on Sales and Breeding
Malibu, CA – March 1, 2016 – American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), Malibu,
CA, is calling on the pet industry, reptile wholesalers and private breeders to stop the breeding and sale of giant tortoises
commonly called sulcatas.
Geochelone sulcata is a hardy and personable species of tortoise. Native
to sub-Saharan Africa, it became part of the lucrative pet trade during the 1990s. Hatchlings have an engaging
nature and are extremely cute making them one of the most commonly purchased pet tortoises in North America, usually as an
impulse buy. Unknown to the unwary buyer, however, is the fact that sulcatas are the third largest
species of tortoise in the world weighing up to 200 pounds, often attaining a large and destructive size in a short period
of time. Adult female sulcatas can easily produce 50 –100 eggs a year. It is not
unusual to see hundreds of hatchlings for sale at reptile shows that sell for anywhere between $100 and $1,000.
According to Susan Tellem, co-founder of ATR, sulcata breeders and pet stores that
sell them create problems that tortoise rescuers are expected to solve. "The pet industry constantly
looks for small, exotic animals with a big price tag," Tellem says. "We've conducted a survey
of sulcata owners about what they were told when they purchased their tortoises. Whether at a pet store
or reptile show - the answer is the same. 'It won't get bigger than its tank.' This
is patently ridiculous and a deliberate lie.” Worse, the sulcata which requires sunshine and warm
weather throughout the year, is sold in all 50 states, many of which suffer freezing temperatures. “Minnesota
and Wisconsin, for example, are terrible locations for a tortoise that must have constant sun to avoid crippling metabolic
Tellem adds, "Sulcata owners quickly become aware of the
difficulties associated with having a potentially destructive non-housebroken animal of this size. A sulcata
is strong and aggressive and can easily move furniture and damage or destroy a typical house or apartment. When
they eat all the grass and plants, and dig massive holes on the property, we get desperate emails to rehome them." Rescues
typically receive three or four calls a week from owners who want to get rid of their sulcatas, most often when they reach
50 pounds or 10 years of age. Most rescues do not charge a rehoming fee, so despite the high price tag
at pet stores and breeders, these animals are offered free to people with large yards who can offer good forever homes.
Tellem, who founded the nonprofit 24 years ago with her husband, Marshall Thompson, says, "Many
owners assume that when the tortoise becomes a problem, zoos will take them, which is not true. Zoos are
not interested in cast-off pets." Tellem says that the zoos, instead, refer people to her rescue.
She has placed hundreds into good homes but this is extremely difficult because it is not easy finding places with
a quarter-acre or more, which is what a sulcata needs. They do not hibernate, which means an owner must provide a large house
with indestructible pig blankets for heat throughout cold winter months.
"Since sulcatas can live 50 to 100 years or more, and because the males fight when placed together,
and male and female sulcatas breed, overcrowded rescues quickly run out of space. At that point, there
is no solution for the unhappy owner," says Tellem.
Tellem adds that some owners mistakenly think
that they can sell the huge animal for a large profit. "There is no market for adult sulcatas,"
Tellem says. "The only option remaining for some cruel owners is to dump the sulcata in the wild where
it will die a slow death by freezing or starving, or to give it up for adoption." Finding a compassionate
adopter who is willing to put up with the destruction is not easy.
and Thompson say that breeders won't turn their backs on an obvious money making machine. "So what
we request is simply market driven economics. People shouldn’t buy sulcatas. Pet
stores should stop selling them. Reptile shows must have a 'no sulcata' policy. Only
then will breeding stop," the pair says.
Tortoise Rescue (ATR), Malibu, Calif., is
a nonprofit founded in 1990 to provide for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle. It provides
permanent sanctuary to abandoned and lost tortoises, as well as those that are confiscated from law enforcement.
Celebrate World Turtle Day™ which ATR founded in 2000 each year on May 23rd. For more information,
contact: American Tortoise Rescue at www.tortoise.com; email firstname.lastname@example.org; like on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AmericanTortoiseRescue; and follow on Twitter @Tortoiserescue.