‘It’s a big time commitment’ to keep a tortoise

ARLINGTON — Two large sulcata tortoises tore through a chain link fence and escaped from an Arlington yard in late August. Both were eventually found and returned to owner June Angevine. The elder tortoise, Tino Turner, a 50-pound 15-year-old animal, was lost for 10 days before a family two miles away found him on their driveway and called Angevine.

Rebecca Fischer, president of the Seattle Turtle and Tortoise Club, answers questions about sulcatas and other tortoises.

Q: What’s the difference between turtles and tortoises?

A: Tortoises are strictly land animals. Their feet look like little elephant feet. They’re very flat. Turtles have webbed feet. They like water, unless they’re box turtles. They don’t necessarily have webbed feet, but they like damper environments.

Q: How long do tortoises live?

A: The average tortoise in captivity lives to be 75 to 100 years old. It’s a long time. It’s a big time commitment. They’re adorable babies. They’re tiny and people think, ‘Oh, we can do this. We want a baby turtle.’ In five years time, it’s 45 pounds. They get tired of them.

Q: What kind of habitat do Sulcatas prefer?

A: Sulcatas live underground 90 percent of the time. Because they’re from a very arid part of Africa, they’re used to living underground. They’ve tunneled under the foundations of houses. They need a (large) area and a heated lamp.

Q: Are there laws regulating sulcatas in the U.S.?

A: Sulcatas are endangered and can’t be imported from Africa, but you can have one born in the U.S. Most sulcatas around here aren’t imported from Africa. They’re usually homegrown. There are several breeders of sulcatas in the U.S. A guy in Arizona breeds albino sulcatas. They’re not really endangered here. If anything, I have trouble finding people to take them because they’re so big. They can get up to 200 pounds.

Q: What should potential sulcata owners consider before buying a tortoise?

A: You need to know how big it’s going to get. You need to find out what a good diet is for them and if it’s something you’re going to be able to do. Tortoises, for the most part, are vegetarians. They’re very, very big eaters. They eat like crazy. So they’ll eventually cost you a lot to keep.

For more information on tortoises or turtles, visit the Seattle Turtle and Tortoise Club Web site: www.geocities.com/seattleturtleclub/.

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