African spurred tortoise

Young Geochelone sulcata feeding
Photograph by Sean Baker

Bob and Barbara Jamison have had great success with breeding and raising turtles and tortoises. The majority of their tortoises are African spurred tortoises, Geochelone sulcata, for which they are most well known. They are currently raising their second generation of G. sulcata. Their famed tortoise Tinkerbell, featured in the photograph, is the mother of many of the young spurred tortoises now kept by other tortoise enthusiasts throughout southern California. This interview was conducted by Bob and Judy Thomas of CTTC's TOOSLO Chapter.

Bob Thomas: How long have you been keeping turtles?

Barbara Jamison: Over 25 years ago we got our first box turtle, a female. We still have many of her descendants. Our desert tortoise came shortly after the box turtle.

Bob Thomas: When did you get your first sulcata?

Bob Jamison: Tinkerbell was purchased July 12, 1975. At that time she weighed 40 pounds. By 1983, she weighed 102 pounds. She is now about 115 pounds.

Judy Thomas: How many breeding sulcata do you have?

Barbara Jamison: We have 3 male and 3 female mature breeders. They are our original breeders. Some of their hatchlings have now started to breed. Our first second-generation hatchling hatched last August.

Judy Thomas: When did you first hatch sulcata?

Barbara Jamison: December 31, 1987. Until 1987 we only had a single female - Tinkerbell. She shared the yard with numerous desert and leopard tortoises, but she had no mate. A few months after we acquired our male "Oliver", Tinkerbell laid her first eggs.

Bob Thomas: When do your sulcata lay their eggs?

Bob Jamison: Our tortoises usually lay their first clutch of the season in January or February. A strong breeder might lay as many as 3 additional clutches approximately 30 days apart. The first clutch frequently seems to have a low fertility rate, possibly because they have not mated during the winter months. The later clutches seem to have a better hatch rate. Incubated eggs usually start to hatch in about 90 days and may continue to hatch over a period of 30 days or so. Hatching times for eggs from separate clutches frequently overlap.

Bob Thomas: How do you incubate the eggs?

Bob Jamison: We incubate the eggs in vermiculite dampened with water (equal parts by weight). We put a layer of vermiculite in a plastic shoe box and then a layer of eggs. The eggs are covered with more vermiculite. We set the incubator at about 87° F.

Judy Thomas: What care do you advise for sulcata hatchlings?

Barbara Jamison: We feel that the temperature for the hatchlings is rather critical. We place several thermometers in their enclosure and try to maintain the temperature at about 85° F using thermostated heating pads. We soak the hatchlings a couple of times a week. We do this by placing the hatchlings in warm water just deep enough to cover their feet. Soaking allows them to drink and aids in elimination. They are individually dried with paper towels. We usually soak them at the same time we clean their pens, the time required to clean the pens being about the right soaking time.