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Leopard tortoise , Geochelone pardalis

Geochelone pardalis

Leopard Tortoise

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Geochelone
Species: G. pardalis
Binomial name
Geochelone pardalis
(Bell, 1828)

The Leopard tortoise(Geochelone pardalis) is a large and attractively marked tortoise found throughout the savannas of Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape. This chelonian is a grazing species of tortoise that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats, although some leopard tortoises have been found in rainier areas. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or anteater holes. Leopard tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Not surprisingly, given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors the fruit and pads of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.), succulents and thistles. They generally have a life span of 100 years.

Taxonomy and etymology

It's generic name is a combination of two Greek words:Geo(γαια) meaning "earth" or "land" and Chelone(Χελωνη) meaning "tortoise". Its specific name padalis is from the Latin word pardus meaning "leopard" and refers to the leopard-likespots on the tortoise's shell.


The leopard tortoise is the fourth largest species of tortoise in the world, with typical adults reaching 18-inch (460 mm) and weighing 40-pound (18 kg).[1] Large examples may be 70-centimetre (28 in) long and weigh up to 120-pound (54 kg).[2] An adult's maximum shell length can reach a 24-inch (610 mm) diameter.[1] The giant Ethiopian form might reach 100-centimetre (39 in) in rare cases.

It is a large and attractively marked tortoise. The carapace is high and domed, and pyramid shaped scutes are not uncommon. The skin and background color is cream to yellow, and the carapace is marked with black blotches, spots or even dashes or stripes. Each individual is marked uniquely.


Leopard tortoises are herbivorous. They are more defensive than offensive, retracting feet and head into their shell for protection. This often results in a hissing sound, probably due to the squeezing of air from the lungs as the limbs and head are retracted.


Like most tortoises, they can retract their head and feet into their shell in defense when threatened. Also like all tortoises and turtles, their mouth is a "beak". The rear legs are very trunk-like, the front legs are almost paddle shaped and "pigeon-toed" with a row of small "nails". They can move very fast on these legs, and maneuver over rocky terrain easily They can also climb and go underwater for up to 10 minutes. Younger animals have a surprising ability to climb, as their toenails provide a very secure grip on wood, concrete, and rough stone surfaces. Small Leopard Tortoises (under 6 inch length) have been observed climbing vertically up and over a 12 inch high wooden board intended to be an enclosure boundary.

Natural history

This is the most widely distributed tortoise in Southern Africa. It has a wide distribution in sub-Saharan Africa, including recorded localities in southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Eastern Africa (including Natal), Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Southwest Africa. Leopard tortoises are the fourth largest species of tortoise, after the Sulcata tortoise, the Galapagos tortoise, and Seychelles giant tortoise.


Leopard tortoises are increasingly being bred in captivity. This is a positive development, as it should lead to a gradual reduction in demand for animals caught in the wild. In most cases, wild-caught leopard tortoises are not only loaded with ticks, mites and internal parasites, but they are usually very stressed and dehydrated and may not voluntarily eat. Even in the best of circumstances, wild-caught leopard tortoises will run up extensive veterinary bills and much time will be spent rehabilitating them. As of March 22, 2000, the USDA has banned importation of the Leopard Tortoise, Bell's Hinge-backed Tortoise and the African Spurred Tortoise.

In the wild, healthy populations still exist in rural areas, national parks and nature reserves. However, it is a staple food item in the diets of many local peoples. In areas of significant human populations, the leopard tortoise is considered rare.


Perhaps the popularity of this animal is because it is associated with strength and immortality. In many cultures, people believe that the tortoise possess qualities that they associate with central themes of faith. The Chinese view the animal as a revered creature, and Native Americans believe that the tortoise supports the world, and that earthquakes are signs that the tortoise is moving.

In captivity

Leopard tortoises require a large enclosure, and ideally should be housed outdoors whenever weather permits. Leopard tortoises are solitary animals in the wild. When many are housed together they need sufficient room to get away from one another and many hiding spots. Males should not be housed together because of their tendency to spar for territory and breeding rights. They should always have access to shaded areas no hotter than 90 °F (32 °C), and at night they should not be left out in temperatures colder than 65 °F (18 °C). When sunny daytime temperatures are less than 70 °F (21 °C), the tortoises should be housed in heated shelters. If housing them indoors, during the day the temperature within the enclosure should range from about 80 °F (27 °C) at the cool end to 90 °F (32 °C) in the basking area. At night, the temperature should not fall below 70 °F (21 °C). They should be kept at low humidity levels, and they should be exposed to between 12 and 14 hours of full spectrum UV light per day. They can be provided with a shallow bowl of water large enough to soak in, or they can be soaked in shallow water periodically—about three times a week for those less than one year old and once a week for adults.

Captive leopard tortoises should be allowed to graze. They do best with a diet consisting primarily of grasses. Their diet should be full of fiber and they should be given a calcium supplement. The diet can be supplemented with dark leafy green vegetables such as collards, kale, and turnip greens. Grape leaves, if available, are very nutritious and a good addition to the diet. They can also be fed fresh and dried alfalfa, but only in small amounts, as it is very high in protein. Fruit should not be given.

Breeding and propagation

A very long-lived animal, the leopard tortoise is seldom sexually mature until it is between the ages of 12 and 15 years. Captive leopard tortoises, however, grow faster and may mature as young as six years of age.

Leopard tortoises "court" by the male ramming the female. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. After mating, the female lays a clutch consisting of between five and 18 eggs. The South African leopard tortoise is significantly more difficult to propagate in captivity than the common leopard tortoise, g. p. babcocki. Rarely will eggs hatch in an incubator. Most successes have occurred when eggs are left in the ground, and when the climate is similar to the natural one for these tortoises.


1. ^ a b Branch, Bill (2008). Tortoises, Terrapins & Turtles of Africa. South Africa: Struik Publishers. p. 128. ISBN 1770074635.
2. ^ Kindersley, Dorling (2001,2005). Animal. New York City: DK Publishing. ISBN 0-7894-7764-5.

External links

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