“Free-roaming” Tortoises in the Home
Many tortoise and box turtle keepers either do or want to let their tortoises wander freely in their home or in some rooms. It is easy to see the appeal, but the idea is often shot down by other keepers. Let’s look at the controversy and try to sort things out.
- Lots of space to move in, which allows the tortoise to find good hides and a variety of micro-climates.
- Lots of opportunity for enrichment and things to do.
- Heightened socialization. This is obviously a matter of opinion and very subjective, but many people who practice this strongly feel it creates more of a bond between the tortoise and the family.
- Reduced housing costs and simplified management.
- Ensuring proper climate- temps, lighting, and humidity as well as relatively draft-free areas.
- Providing proper, snug hides.
- Managing feces, urine, and Salmonella risk.
- Eating non-food items.
- Managing the urge to dig, nest, or otherwise interact with natural elements. This is especially true when laying eggs.
- Overcoming the tendency of many floors to be cold or slick, or for carpeting to tangle in their claws.
- Daily soaks, both to help with hydration and to encourage defecation in the bath. Some would argue that daily soaks mean you do not need a water dish, but a good accessible water dish is still a good idea.
- Humid areas and hiding places, such as one created by clustering plants in a warm room.
- Accessible pans of soil for digging or growing greens.
- Limit the tortoise’s access to rooms that meet the tortoise’s needs the best, such as a spare bedroom.
- Make a basking area with heat and UVB in an accessible but out of the way location.
- Perhaps most importantly, a good match of the tortoise species and size to the situation. High humidity or very large species are not the best option in most homes, and younger tortoises need more care.