Press Release: Don’t Buy a Sulcata for Christmas

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I received the following press release today. Spread the word about the pet trade:

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American Tortoise Rescue Warns Don’t Buy a Sulcata for Christmas

Giant Sulcata Tortoises Overwhelm U.S. Rescues

Malibu, CA – December 9, 2013 – Turtle and tortoise wildlife groups and rescue organizations throughout North America led by Malibu based American Tortoise Rescue are calling on the pet industry and private breeders to stop the sale of tortoises called sulcatas.  These tortoises, when sold as hatchlings, are typically an impulse buy for the holidays because they are so tiny and cute.

According to Susan Tellem, co-founder of American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), the sale of sulcatas today is similar to the pet trade’s large-scale sale of iguanas during the early to mid-90s.  Many people bought cute baby iguanas not realizing that they could grow to six feet and become aggressive.  Just like iguanas, Sulcata breeders and pet stores that sell them create problems that other people, especially reptile rescuers, have to solve.

“The pet industry looks for small, adorable 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 often a deliberate lie to make a sale.”  She added, “Breeders won’t turn their backs on an obvious money making machine.  So what we are requesting this holiday season and beyond 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 breeders have no choice but to stop breeding them.  There are plenty available through rescues like ours.”

New owners quickly become aware of the difficulties associated with having a potentially destructive non-housebroken animal of this size.  A fully-grown sulcata is strong and aggressive and can easily move furniture and damage or destroy a typical house or apartment.  When they start to dig up the property, it looks like a mine field, and say goodbye to your grass, plants and trees.  Tellem says that because sulcatas do not hibernate, they need expensive housing through the winter using commercial pig blankets for heat (lights are dangerous and not effective), and because their feces are so large (similar to a German Sheppard’s), keeping them in the house is not an option for most people.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the sulcata became part of the lucrative pet trade during the 1990s.  It has an engaging nature, is attractive and sells for anywhere between $50 and $1,000.  Unknown to the buyer, however, is that sulcatas are the third largest species of tortoise in the world weighing up to 70 – 200 pounds, attaining this size in a very 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 even though selling any turtle or tortoise in the U.S. under four inches is illegal.

Tellem, who founded the nonprofit ATR 24 years ago with her husband, Marshall Thompson, says, “Many owners assume that when the tortoise becomes a problem, zoos will take them.  This is simply not true.  Zoos are not interested in cast-off pets.”

Tellem says that the zoos, instead, refer people to her rescue, as well as others.  She has placed hundreds into good homes but it is not the answer because it is not easy finding places with a quarter-acre or more, which is what a sulcata needs.  Based on the record number of hatchlings and juveniles sold in pet stores as compared to hundreds in the ‘90s, this bred a catastrophe of unwanted pets.

Tellem says that the option of placing the animal with a rescue organization or rehabber sounds good to most overwhelmed owners.  Unfortunately, of those thousands of cute tortoises that are sold every year, rescue organizations can only take a few of them once they are huge.  “Since the Sulcata can live 50 years or more, and because the males fight when placed together, overcrowded rescues are out of space.  At that point, there is no solution,” says Tellem.

Tellem adds that some owners mistakenly think that they can sell the huge animal for a large profit., which prohibits the sale of live animals is rife with sulcata posts.  There’s no oversight so the posts are not taken down.

“There is no market for adult sulcatas,” Tellem says.  “The only options remaining are to dump the animal in the wild where they will definitely end up dead, or to give it up for adoption to a rescue group.”  She added that her rescue is full as are most others and so the only option is finding a compassionate adopter who is willing to give a forever home to the destructive pet.

Aside from the potential for a slow death by freezing or starving that “dumped” sulcatas face, there are other problems.  These include infecting native wildlife with parasites and disease.  This could result in the eradication of already threatened native

species.  There is also the issue of introduction of yet another non-native species into a precariously balanced ecosystem.  There are many national rescue organizations listed on the ATR website all of which can facilitate sulcata adoptions if people are interested in getting one.

American Tortoise Rescue, Malibu, Calif., is a nonprofit founded in 1990 to provide for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle.  For more information, contact:  American Tortoise Rescue at; or email  Follow us on Twitter @tortoiserescue and on Facebook.
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3 thoughts on “Press Release: Don’t Buy a Sulcata for Christmas

  1. Πρώτη φορά επισκέπτομαι το site
    σου και είμαι πολύ ευχαριστημένος που έχει
    τόσο χρήσιμα άρθρα.

  2. Γυρίζω στο ιντερνέτ σήμερα για περισσότερες από δυο ώρες και δεν βρήκα
    πολλά άρθρα που να είναι εξίσου
    ενδιαφέροντα με το δικό σας.
    Πιστεύω ότι αν όλοι οι webmasters των sites έφτιαχναν τέτοιο ποιοτικό περιεχόμενο το ιντερνετ, θα ήταν πολύ
    καλύτερο για όλους.

  3. Σερφάρω στο ιντερνέτ σήμερα για περισσότερες από 3 ώρες και δεν βρήκα πολλά άρθρα που να είναι εξίσου ενδιαφέροντα με το δικό
    σας. Πιστεύω ότι αν όλοι οι webmasters
    των blogs έφτιαχναν τέτοιο ποιοτικό περιεχόμενο το ιντερνετ, θα ήταν πολύ
    καλύτερο για όλους.

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