One of the herpetologist contacted yesterday says that this is a sulcata tortoise from northern Africa. Obvious it was acquired as an exotic pet, and either escaped or was released at the Nature Preserve. Once again, the Internet is a wealth of information, particularly http://www.sulcata-station.org/ and http://www.anapsid.org/sulcata.html. Here is the best advice:
Please, do your research before you bring home a sulcata tortoise. Like most exotics, these are not easily-kept pets. These tortoises get VERY large, VERY quickly, and they can live well over 50 years. They DO NOT hibernate in winter so you must keep them warm, feed them, and clean up after them year-around.
Reptile rescue organizations nationwide are overwhelmed with rescued sulcata tortoises. If you don’t plan to keep the tortoise forever, don’t get it in the first place.
Sulcata tortoises evolved in the semi-arid regions of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert. Their digestive tracts have evolved to handle low-nutrient, high-fiber foods like dry grasses and weeds, which are the only sources of nutrition for much of the year in that region. The best way to feed a tortoise is to provide it with a safely-enclosed yard or pen where it can graze on a variety of grasses, grass hay, and certain safe edible weeds like dandelion, plantain, and chickweed. Upon realizing this, many new tortoise owners freak out and reply, “But we live in (somewhere with cold and snowy winters) and it’s impossible to let him out to graze!” Specimens can easily reach 24 – 30 inches long, weigh 80 – 100 pounds, and live to be fifty years old.
Since it’s the middle of summer, we let her go out in the fenced back yard today, and you can see how she enjoys eating grass in the warm sunshine. David fastened a pink flag around her shell so we can find her when she wanders off. We have not determined who she belongs to yet. However, the Kentucky Herpetological Society
meets next week, and we hope to get some advice from them. They do work to find homes for reptiles that have been abandoned by their owners.