The idea of a tortoise having the ability to climb a fence and escape its enclosure can seem strange. One would it be possible with such a giant shell on their backs and tiny legs, right? However, implausible the notion may sound, there is some truth in the tail.
Despite all the odds, Tortoises are very good climbers and have the ability to climb fences and walls. As well as being good climbers, they are excellent at burrowing. You need to have a secure enclosure to keep a tortoise from escaping their enclosure.
I didn’t believe that a tortoise could climb until one day, I walked in on my tortoise perched over the top of his enclosure. Upon my research, I found that tortoises were, in fact, excellent climbers and burrows.
Which led me to make my enclosures and yard much more secure than I first thought they needed to be. Seeing your tortoise making the great escape is not only fascinating but incredibly worrying.
Below I cover some of the things I discovered about tortoises, their climbing and burrowing habits, and how to secure your yard better to keep them inside and safe.
Can Tortoises Climb Fences?
Information about tortoise enclosures will often include warnings about keeping them secure to prevent tortoises from escaping.
To the uninitiated, it may seem surprising that something as bulky and slow as a tortoise can be a wily escape artist, but they can be.
If you are not careful, you might go to your tortoise enclosure one morning to find that your tortoise has decided to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
So how do tortoises escape? Do they climb fences?
Do Tortoises Like Climbing?
Tortoises do not like climbing in the same way that other animals do. They cannot generally climb fences, and they cannot scale walls as some reptiles can.
However, tortoises are adept at scaling and circumnavigating obstacles. Some tortoises get an instinctual motivation to begin moving and roaming around.
If you have a tortoise in an enclosure where they can see the horizon or long distances, it might prick this instinct, causing them to exhibit behavior that might lead to the climbing.
Tortoises cannot climb fencing very well, but they can climb other things such as nearby rocks, stumps, their hide, other tortoises, and more.
If they can scale their way to an object high enough to reach the top of a fence or enclosure, it is not inconceivable that they could manage to get out.
Tortoises possess a remarkable ability to climb short surfaces and distances, and that could include fences. This can be surprising, and if you are not careful, it can lead to a heartbreaking incident with your beloved pet.
How to Prevent Your Tortoise Escaping its Enclosure
One of the easiest ways to prevent your tortoise from climbing out of its habitat is to put a lid on your enclosure. A lid with a latch will not only prevent your tortoise from climbing out but can also prevent predators from climbing in.
If you cannot put a lid onto your habitat or if you allow your tortoise to live outside, removing easily climbable objects from around the fence will help prevent them from leapfrogging from one scalable item to the next.
Also, make sure that your fence is tall enough that the tortoise cannot merely climb out. Some enclosures are only twelve inches tall, which can be too short for some determined tortoises.
To give an idea of the perfect height would be to measure their length and make your walls around a couple of inches higher. They will be unable to escape a fence higher than their length. Unless they have another object to step onto that makes the wall smaller.
A livestock wire fence and a wood fence should be sturdy enough and tall enough to keep a tortoise inside. However, garden fence and chicken wire are going to be too flimsy to prevent a tortoise from bulldozing or climbing its way to freedom.
If a tortoise is determined to try and get where it is going, it will not hesitate to try and simply barrel its way through obstacles. A tortoise will use its shell to protect the roll or bump it may get on the other side.
While this might look cute when your tortoise is young and small, a fully grown tortoise pushing on a fence or enclosure wall can eventually lead to it failing.
One way to try and prevent this behavior is to keep your tortoise in an enclosure where they cannot see out to the rest of the world. Seeing the other side of a fence that they cannot get to can cause tortoises to stress, so this is best practice anyway.
What About Burrowing?
If tortoises are considered good climbers, they are expert burrowers. Many tortoises dig frequently and dig very well.
Burrowing is a natural instinct used to create underground homes for themselves, to create a cool place to rest and places to hide from predators.
Some tortoises will burrow just for fun or to keep themselves active during the day. Still, other tortoises will use burrowing as a means of travel and escape.
Tortoises have dug large and long tunnels that quickly go under fencing if they find favorable soil.
In order to prevent your tortoise from burrowing around your fence, you can line the fence with cinder blocks, make sure that the enclosure has everything the tortoise needs, or encourage burrowing in the center of the enclosure, far from the edges.
Tortoises have been known to make underground caves that stretch several meters in length. Another good way to stop a tortoise burrowing out of your yard is to dig a couple of feet trench and line with chicken wire. Filling back in with the soil will give your border an underground barrier.
What to do if Your Tortoise Does Escape
On the off chance that your tortoise does escape, which can happen from time to time, don’t panic. If your tortoise is indoors, it probably cannot have gotten very far.
Tortoises like to find warm, dry, enclosed spaces to hide and bed down. Check closets, corners, the laundry room, and other similar locations to see if you can find your wayward pet.
If your tortoise was outside when it escaped, the problem could be much more challenging to solve.
Spread out from the enclosure and look in a circular pattern around the hide to see if you can find traces of where your tortoise went.
Similar to the indoor tortoise, you can check for natural burrows, shady places, and sandy ground. These might have been attractive targets for your tortoise.
If you live in a neighborhood, it is probably a good idea to warn your neighbors that your tortoise is on the loose so that they can keep an eye out for it as well.
While tortoises are not world champion fence climbers, they do climb, and improper fencing can lead to tortoises escaping. A lost tortoise can wander for miles and be long gone before you realize they have escaped.
Tortoises are notorious escape artists, and steps must be taken to ensure that they are kept safely within their habitat.
An escaped tortoise is so hard to find as they can travel great distances despite their slow-moving nature. A lost tortoise is not only hard to find but can be devastating to us as owners, not to mention the tortoise’s life.
The easiest thing to do is to attach a lid with a latch to any tortoise enclosure, which can prevent escapes and predators from getting to your pet.
But sometimes things happen, and if your tortoise escapes, do not despair but begin to look for them in a calm and rational manner. Most of the time, they can be found and brought home again.