A Guide to Tortoise Enrichment

Tortoises thrive in an interesting environment, which is why you may want to make their enclosure as intriguing as possible. In the wild tortoises come across a whole range of geological features, and will be used to interacting with different environments. Even if they were born in captivity, instinctively they will still thrive in a varied and interesting environment.

Put simply, an entertained tortoise is a happy tortoise. For your pet to grow up properly in your care, you need to ensure that its enclosure has more than just what might be considered ‘essential’ to survival; in other words things other than food, water and the right heat/lighting.

This is exactly why tortoise enrichment is so important – because it brings a piece of the wild, their natural home, into their enclosure.

Benefits of an Interesting Environment

Just like cats and dogs require some sort of stimuli and environmental factors to keep them comfortable and happy, so to do tortoises. Just because they are slow and not as outwardly affectionate, it doesn’t mean that they will be happy to fall into a state of boredom.

So, here are the main reasons why you may want to ensure their environment looks as interesting as possible:

  • It Keeps Them Busy

Again, just because they are slow, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like to play. Moreover, since they are cold-blooded reptiles, they need a way to warm their bodies up aside from absorbing heat UV lamp or the sun. Not to mention they also need to burn the calories of the food that they eat.

This is why you must make sure the enclosure has several ‘toys’ as well as the other more ‘essential’ items. This can be anything from “pushable” toys you can get from a pet store store (or even just a small plastic ball) or something as cheap and simple as some cute pebbles from your backyard.

With an array of plants and rocks present, the more they are able to explore – something that will certainly keep their interest. A good “playground” will give your tortoise a chance to walk (or rather crawl) around and play, keeping it entertained for longer.

  • It Makes Them Feel Safe

Tortoises like to be able to hide in their little “secret” places. It offers them shelter, and it makes them feel safe. This is why an enriched environment must have enclosed areas for your tortoise to hide in.

This may be anything from rocks to grass, moss, or miniature trees. As long as they feel like they’re in their natural environment, they should thus feel able to behave in the same way they would there.

This is also the reason why the enclosure substrate should be of a decent depth, so that the tortoise can burrow and bury themselves.

So, if they get shy and have various places where they can get away from it all, they should be able to hide out in the same manner that they would in the wild.

Possible Environmental Additions or Toys to Consider

So now we know that enrichment is very important part of the life of a tortoise. So, what can you add? Are there any environmental additions you should consider – any toys that you may want to use? Well, here are some things that should make a great addition to their enclosure.

  • Pebbles

There’s probably nothing cuter than watching your pet tortoise pushing pebbles in their enclosure in order to have some fun. As surprising as it may seem, tortoises do indeed like having fun; they don’t just sit basking in the sun (or lamplight) all day. They occasionally need to move around too – which often leads into their own version of pebble football.

Some tortoises like piling them up, others like scooting them around. You may want to give them differently sized pebbles, to see what they can do with them. Make sure that you also give your tortoise enough space in its enclosure so that it may play with its pebbles.

  • Treat Toys

Tortoises love food. They often love it so much that they do not know how to stop eating. Too much, and they may become obese – because yes, tortoises can also get fat, particularly those that are fully grown. However, there is a strategy for you to provide food without having them gorge on it.

This might sound like a tease, but at the same time, it might prove to be a great motivator. Torts are highly motivated by food, so if they smell or see it sticking out, they will certainly start moving in order to play with it.

Take a small rubber or plastic ball and fill it with your tortoise’s favorite food. Make a few holes and allow some food to stick through them. Whenever your pet will try to take a bite from it, the toy will roll away and the tortoise will chase after it. It will get a workout while enjoying its meal.

Win win right?!

  • Hideouts

Tortoises are, by their nature, very shy, so you should add some hides in their enclosure – in both the warmer and cooler parts of the enclosure. In the wild tortoises will often hide in grass, caves, and other hideouts so that they can get away from predators.

  • Bathing Dishes

Tortoises love to take baths, even if though they are by definition ‘land turtles’. It helps them regulate their temperature, and take on hydration. This is why you should add one or more shallow bath dishes where they can voluntarily take a soak now and again.

Having water available is really an essential practice anyway, given the necessity of drinking water.

  • Trees and Boulders

Tortoises also like their privacy, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give them a few small trees and boulders in their enclosure. Besides privacy, they also provide shelter – something that tortoises enjoy having in their natural environment. You may also want to add some clumps of grass while you are at it, as this will allow the reptile to burrow in it.

The Importance of Not Going Overboard

One thing that you need to keep in mind is that while sometimes tortoises behave like overexcited dogs, they aren’t dogs – which is why you should not over-clutter their environment. Make sure that you only add a few items – sticking mostly to the basics.

While tortoises love to play with their pebbles and hide underneath their little trees, they also like having space around them. So, make sure that you give them enough to stimulate them, but not enough to make things feel overly cluttered.

The Bottom Line

An enriched environment will not only make your tortoise feel at home but will also keep them intrigued. They may be cold-blooded, but just like you or I love being surrounded by an interesting environment, so do they.

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