Building an Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure
An outdoor tortoise enclosure is in many ways very different from an outdoor aquarium, both in construction and maintenance. An aquarium can be purchased as a modular structure or the materials can be assembled from scratch. The problem with an aquarium is that it can be very limiting in terms of space and often provides issues with ventilation and temperature regulation. A tortoise enclosure allows the tortoise to enjoy plenty of fresh air without the need for costly temperature regulation devices. An enclosure also allows you to provide your tortoise with plenty of plants, an addition that is the very foundation to a good tortoise enclosure!
The border of your tortoise enclosure does not have to be expensive or difficult to construct. The material that you use should simply be sturdy and preferably weather resistant to prevent rotting, weakness, and the formation of fungus. Weather-treated wood and durable plastic are great options, however some tortoise owners have had success using non-rust metal as well. You may want to stay away from metal or chain link fencing, as this is prone to rust and your tortoise could become tangled in the wire. It is important to bear in mind that tortoise enclosures do not have to be exceptionally tall, as tortoises cannot jump, however if the surface of the walls are rough, it is possible for certain species of tortoise to climb. The smoother the surface is, the less likely the tortoise will be to successfully scale the walls. The walls of the enclosure should outline a decent area of land in order to provide the tortoise with plenty of room to walk and exercise.
When constructing the walls of the enclosure, it is a good idea to start by sinking the material at least a foot below ground. This will prevent the tortoise from digging his way under the wall as well as provide additional security to the wall itself. Not including the underground portion of the wall, the general rule when it comes to wall height is to ensure that the walls are at least two times the length of the tortoise.
The landscape is extremely important, as this will be the environment that your tortoise actually lives in. The landscape can be as unique or traditional as you like, however the quality of this environment will have a direct effect upon the health of your tortoise. You may want to start by placing a hardware cloth in the ground, about half a foot below the surface of the enclosure. This will ensure that your tortoise will not be able to dig too far into the ground. It will also deter burrowing animals, such as moles, from disturbing your tortoise.
The more plants you include in your tortoise enclosure, the happier your tortoise will be. Tortoises are natural excavators and the more vegetation they have to explore, the more content they become! It is also worthwhile to ensure that your tortoise has plenty of edible plants, as this will allow him a bit more freedom when it comes to sating his hunger, plus you can seriously cut back the costs of tortoise food this way. You may also wish to include rocks, logs, and even a makeshift shelter. Some tortoise owners have even used large dog houses as a shelter. Remember that creativity can make your tortoise enclosure really impressive, but the environment must feel natural to the tortoise and serve his basic needs.
A roof or protective structure over the pen is definitely worth consideration. Your tortoise should have access to direct sunlight so that he can bask whenever he likes, but it is also a good idea to offer an area where he can seek shelter from the sun and other elements. There are many different roof-like designs that you can choose from. You might consider constructing an overhang or even a flat hinged roof that can be propped up using a stick or rock. As long as the roof is sturdy and free of glass and metal, which can intensify the sun’s rays to dangerous degrees, you will be doing your tortoise a huge favor!
If you find that you are having trouble creating your own enclosure design, consider looking online for free blueprints and design ideas. Basic enclosures are not difficult to build but you do have to bear in mind that the elements coupled with tortoise escape attempts will definitely put the enclosure to the test. –And you certainly don’t want to wake up one morning to find that your tortoise has escaped!