Keeping a tortoise is by all accounts an interesting challenge for most first time tortoise owners. The first few years when you’re finding your feet as a tortoise owner, you’ll find yourself ticking off a number of milestones, from perfecting the right set up indoors and out, to getting confident hibernating your tortoise.
For many people keeping a single tortoise is challenge enough, and it’s also perfectly humane to do so – most tortoises are naturally solitary animals, and have no qualms whatsoever spending the best part of a lifetime in the presence of their own company.
That being said, you can still keep more than one tortoise as long as you’re confident and have the time to care for them all equally. There are just a few considerations you need to bear in mind regarding the sex and size differences of the tortoises.
Clearly if you plan to keep all your tortoises in separate enclosures your only real consideration is making sure you care for them all equally, ensuring there’s no cross contamination of cleaning tools and other items that might spread parasites or infections from one tortoise to the next. This is particularly important if you keep tortoises of different species.
If you’re planning on having your tortoises all bunking in together, things get a little more complicated.
Do Not Keep Tortoises of Different Sizes Together
A larger territorial tortoise, particularly a male, has the potential to be a real threat to a smaller tortoise, simply because there’s no contest when it comes to the two fighting, and fight they will. If you’re really unlucky the smaller of the two could be mortally wounded, so it’s not worth the risk.
Keeping Two Males Together
Two males of equal size will invariably fight if kept together, so this isn’t a great idea either.
Depending on who you ask you might hear of two males cohabiting quite happily once they’ve ‘fought it out’ to decide who’s the alpha. Even so, you’d probably want a larger than normal enclosure if you wanted to risk it, to be sure they could get far enough away from one another when they wanted, or else so you could separate them with a dividing wall just in case you needed to.
Another exception would be if you were lucky enough to have a large harem of females to divert their attention from one another, but unsurprisingly few people have the time and money to look after this many tortoises.
Do Not Keep One Male and One Female Together
Just as two males will be prone to fighting due to lack of distraction by other tortoises or the ability to get far enough away from each other, a male kept in close quarters to a single female will be equally as destructive.
The lone female will invariably be the object of the male’s ‘affection’ to an unhealthy degree. Again, not being able to get away from the male will leave the female open to being repeatedly ‘mated’ with to an unnatural level.
The female may become physically injured in time and her quality of life will decrease, so it’s not humane to keep a male and female in close quarters for this reason.
Do Keep Several Females or Several Females and One Male Together
If you have got the time, money and space to look after several tortoises (a minimum of 4) then a healthy arrangement is 3 females and a single male. The male will remain the dominant figure, however the females will each be able to have more of a break from the male given his greater choice of partners!
Ensuring You Have Enough Space
Even if your ratio of males and females is correct, your tortoises will still (quite literally) be living on top of one another if their enclosure is too small.
The absolute minimum space requirement for a single tortoise is 4 foot by 2 foot, or 1.2 metres by 0.6 metres. So with 4 tortoises to look after, in summer your entire garden might be filled with tortoises, and by winter your living room filled with tortoise tables!
Be Aware That Living Arrangements Might Have to Change When Your Juveniles Get Older
Some problems with juvenile tortoises are that:
- They’re difficult to sex; as a male won’t likely ‘present’ his penis until he’s at least a couple of years old, so it’s nigh on impossible to know whether you’ve bought a male or female
- Not being of sexual maturity their behaviour isn’t as easy to gauge, and again males will neither be as aggressive or sexually active as they will be once fully grown, so you won’t know if they’re male or female until they are fully grown.
The upshot of this is that you can be lulled into a false sense of security when you buy a pair of juvenile tortoise and find they coexist without any issues for the first few years of their lives, only to find later that they start fighting or harassing one another
To this end you need to be prepared from the outset to house your tortoises separately when the time comes.
Alternatively you could buy mature tortoises so that you know what you’ll be dealing with from the get go.
Note however, that if these originate from seperate breeders/dealers, you’ll need to keep them quarantined from one another for at least 6 months to avoid any cross contamination of diseases or infection.
Certain Species Are More Adept At Cohabiting Than Others
It’s also worth noting that not all species of tortoises are as poorly suited to living in close quarters as others from the same species.
Red Foot tortoises and Pancake Tortoises for example, live in colonies and will occupy the same living space or burrow in the wild.
That’s not to say that such species don’t fight, but they’re probably better suited to settling their differences quickly so that they can coexist in peace.