Red-footed Tortoise

Geochelone carbonaria

The red-footed tortoise is native to most of South America, plus Panama, Trinidad and Barbados; it has been introduced to many islands in the West Indies.

It is found in a wide range of habitats within this extensive range, including wet and dry forests, savannas, and grasslands associated with ranching and farming. Like other tortoises, they are capable of surviving long periods without food or water. red-footed tortoises generally reach 10 to 14 inches in carapace length and live 40 to 50 years. The name red-footed tortoise derives from the clear red scales on its forelimbs.

Did You Know?

The name Red-footed Tortoise derives from the clear red scales on its forelimbs.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

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Little is known about the status of red-footed tortoise populations in the wild. The two main threats are believed to be habitat loss and harvest for food. Red-footed tortoises are sold as a delicacy in many South American cities. Additionally, the Catholic Church considers tortoises “fish” so red-footed tortoises are consumed in large numbers during Holy Week.

Other species of tortoises are threatened by the trade in wildlife. There is little reliable information about the number of red-footed tortoises in the pet trade, the percentage of these that are captive-bred, or the effects of harvest on wild populations. However, these issues raise the concern level of this species as a pet.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Only acquire a pet that is captive bred, from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying a wild-caught and/or imported animal.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

Red-footed tortoises introduced to the U.S. Virgin Islands and other islands in the West Indies have established self-sustaining populations. However as yet, there is no evidence that they have had negative impacts on native or domesticated species.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Only acquire a pet that is from a reputable breeder or dealer to ensure that you are not buying an illegally imported or wild-caught animal. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Some Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Red-footed tortoises are relatively easy to keep in captivity in regions that do not have a very cold winter, unless kept indoors with the appropriate size enclosure, temperature gradient, and UV light exposure.  Where winters are long and cold, animals will need to be hibernated, and this often leads to health issues. They require a varied diet.  In addition, this species can live for up to 50 years, grow to a large size and thus requires a long-term care commitment.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When purchasing a pet red-footed tortoise, be sure to research the animal’s specific care requirements. Talk to your veterinarian about the proper diet and housing for your pet.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Tortoises in general are known to carry Salmonella. If ingested by humans, Salmonella can cause vomiting and diarrhea; these symptoms are usually mild in healthy adults but can be fatal to infants and young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system. It is important to wash hands before and after handling an animal. Salmonella can be transmitted from exotic pets to any member of a household, even those who do not handle the pet directly.

Wild-caught red-footed tortoises can harbor ticks of the genus Amblyomma. These ticks carry the bacteria (Cowdria ruminantium) that cause heartwater, a severe and usually fatal disease infecting cattle, sheep, goats, and other ruminants.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Reptiles often do not show signs of illness when harboring Salmonella. Regardless, when purchasing a pet ask the seller if the animal has been checked by a veterinarian and obtain a list of any medical treatments the animal has received. Always wash your hands after handling a reptile.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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