Scientific Name: Stigmochelys pardalis
Average Life Span: 100+ years
Size: 10 to 22 inches, up to 30 lbs
IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Current Population Trend: Unknown
The Leopard Tortoises is a beautiful, large species of tortoise found throughout eastern and southern Africa. Leopard tortoises are the 4th largest species of land tortoise. These peaceful tortoises can be kept in small groups and do well when housed together. This tortoise is a grazing species that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. Leopard tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. The carapace is high and domed with steep, almost vertical sides. Juveniles and young adults are attractively marked with black blotches, spots or even dashes and stripes on a yellow background. In mature adults the markings tend to fade to a nondescript brown or grey. The head and limbs are uniformly colored yellow, tan, or brown.
Leopard tortoises are herbivorous; their diet consists of a wide variety of plants including forbs, thistles, grasses, and succulents. They will sometimes gnaw on bones or even hyena feces to obtain calcium, necessary for bone development and their eggshells. Seeds will pass undigested through the gut, so the leopard tortoise plays a significant role in seed dispersal.
A very long-lived animal, the leopard tortoise reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 12 and 15 years. During the mating season, males will fight over females, ramming and butting their competitors. They will trail after females for quite some distance, often ramming them into submission. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. Nesting occurs between May and October when the female digs a hole and lays a clutch of 5 to 30 eggs. As many as 5–7 clutches may be laid in a single season.
Widely distributed across the arid and savanna regions of eastern and southern Africa, extending from South Sudan and Somalia, across East Africa to South Africa and Namibia. The species is generally absent from the humid forest regions of Central Africa.
Over this range, the leopard tortoise occupies the most varied habitats
of any African tortoise including grasslands, thorn-scrub, mesic
brushland, and savannas. They can be found at altitudes ranging from sea
level to 9,500 ft. Normally active during the day, they are less active during hot weather or during the dry season. Adults have few natural predators but lions and hyenas have occasionally been reported preying on them.