The South American Redfoot tortoise is an amazing being.
Smart, curious, resilient, brave – and frequently quite forgiving of mistakes made by their human carers.
I would know.
My name is Shannon Cutts. And this is my flock: Pearl (left), Bruce (top right), and Malti (bottom right).
You might know me already if you are part of our extended flock over at Love and Feathers and Shells.
This website, Redfoot Tortoise Care, is an offshoot of that project, and one designed to answer the questions I often receive about Malti’s care and her needs.
But let’s pause and rewind. Let’s go back to the beginning.
When she first came to me as a silver dollar-sized, five-week-old hatchling, my Malti looked like this.
She was PERFECT.
After just a handful of years under my care, she looked like this.
In case you are brand new to redfoot tortoise keeping and you aren’t sure what you are looking at, those bumps on Malti’s shell are called “pyramiding.” They shouldn’t be there. More on this soon.
But for now, what you need to know is this: in caring for Malti, I made every. single. mistake I had read about and vowed I would never make.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t lazy. I read books. I researched online. I had a running list of all the common redfoot tortoise health issues that I was going to make sure Malti never got.
She got all of them.
To make matters worse, the so-called exotic veterinarians I consulted were woefully under-educated on the unique care needs of the South American tropical redfoot tortoise. The guidance I received made her sicker. And sicker. And sicker.
Today, my girl has just passed her sixth birthday. She has already been on five diets, suffered through repeated bouts of tortoise pneumonia and survived one near-death experience.
That near-death experience introduced me to our current long-time nationally-recognized exotic veterinary care team at Gulf Coast Avian and Exotics and one very special lady – a world-class exotic animal specialist (herpetologist) named Danielle Inman.
Meeting Danielle, or Dani as my family now calls her, saved Malti’s life.
Dani’s intensely personal, hands-on mentoring provided not just the practical husbandry (aka “care”) guidance I needed to pull Malti back from the brink, but she also provided the emotional and mental support I required to believe in myself again – to believe I could do much better going forward than I had up to that point.
It has been three years now since Malti and I met Dani.
Malti will never lose the visual evidence of my early care mistakes – the most obvious of which are the shell malformations that make her look like a small brown and red-dotted mountain range on legs as she moves about her enclosure. She will never lose the diminished lung and digestive capacity or excess bone growth that weighs her down. And we can’t turn back the clock on her early sexual maturation or continually weeping eyes.
But we are slowly and surely reversing the devastating diagnosis of metabolic bone disease.
This means the future looks a lot brighter for my precious girl today than it ever has before.
Malti is a joy to share time with. She has keen bright brown eyes and facial expressions that I find as easy to read as the expressions of my own species. Her sweet tortoise smile lights up a room. She is so eager to live, to enjoy life, to explore.
She has learned exactly which members of her human family are reliable pushovers – the ones she can count on to slip her treats on the sly (or right out in the open).
And she recognizes the refrigerator and will sit in front of it or even try to climb up into it to let me know she is hungry.
Malti often clambers up into my lap for shell scratches or a cuddle. On cold winter evenings, she likes to sleep on her heating pad on the couch beside me. She is insatiably curious about anything new or different and often insists on “helping” me as I add new foliage to her outdoor enclosure each spring.
Because of her health history, we don’t yet know if she will be able to reach her species’ full 50-year life expectancy, although in all likelihood she may not. But I am fiercely dedicated to making sure every single year she does have is her best year yet and her best year ever.
With Dani’s help and the support of the exotic veterinary team she works with, I truly believe we will achieve this goal.
Why did I decide to create a redfoot tortoise care course and this website?
I created this course because I knew about and had even read and researched all about the common first-time redfoot tortoise keeper mistakes, but I still ended up making all of them anyway.
As you have probably already noticed if you are here reading this, there is a LOT of conflicting information online, in books, on websites and amongst breeders.
Even longtime redfoot tortoise experts frequently disagree on the finer points of substrate selection, dietary requirements and habitat foliage, to name just a few.
But in the beginning, middle and end, the proof that a care system works is simply this: a healthy, happy redfoot tortoise.
In this course you will learn the ESSENTIALS your redfoot tortoise MUST HAVE to stay HEALTHY and THRIVE.
These are the key elements that will not change regardless of your redfoot’s age, gender or even (as in the case of many rescued redfoots and my own Malti) previous health history.
Get these essentials right and there is a lot of room for experimenting with the rest to find what works best for your particular living situation, local weather and climate, budget and goals.
Why did I make this redfoot tortoise care course free?
At this point you might quite legitimately be wondering, “why is this course free?”
It is free because every redfoot tortoise on this planet deserves to live out their life in perfect health, with enriching food and a lush habitat to keep them happy and thriving. Malti deserves this and she didn’t get it, at least until I found Dani and the exotic veterinary team she works with at Gulf Coast Avian & Exotics.
With this free course, I aim to help you do better than I did.
Why the heck would I ever think you would trust me as your guide?
You may also be reading our story and wondering “why should I trust you – you just told me you made all the biggest mistakes a redfoot tortoise owner can make!”
This is true. I wouldn’t trust me either (and frankly I still don’t).
But you actually aren’t trusting me by choosing this course.
You are trusting Dani, who has given me the guidance I am about to share with you here.
In fact, Dani has been involved in every step of course creation. She has vetted the material and you will soon be meeting her as you start making use of the lessons.
With that said, at the beginning, middle or end of your journey through the course material, if you find anything you read valuable, please feel welcome to share it.
With great respect and love,
Shannon and Dani (and Malti)