Leopard Tortoise

by Kelsey Anhalt

The Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone paradalis) is one of the world’s largest tortoise species, growing up to 70cm in length.  They got their name from their black and yellow spotted hard shell.  This shell acts as their primary defense to predators, which are primarily humans.  The creatures also have thick hind legs with scales and claws as well as a sharp beak-like mouth to help them eat.  The female tortoise is often larger than the male, but the males have a longer tail.


The Leopard Tortoise is an herbivorous animal, eating only plants and plant material.  Their diet consists of grass, leaves, berries, flowers, and fruit.  They also occasionally eat old bones for calcium or when they can’t find other sources of food. The Leopard Tortoise is the fourth largest tortoise species in the world.  Although there are many of these tortoises, they often live by themselves grazing the land they live and eat off of.  They live in areas with low vegetation, and seek shelter under plants during the summer when the heat is too intense.  The Leopard Tortoise does not have ear openings so they can’t hear well, but they do respond to certain specific vocalizations within the species such as grunts and hissing.  Their main way of communicating is through visual perceptions, but it is unknown if they can differentiate colors.  Like many other tortoises, the Leopard Tortoise can live an incredibly long life, 100 years or more.  However, the typical lifespan for a Leopard Tortoise is 50 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity.

Their long life explains why the species is not able to produce until they are ten years old; this is when they reach sexual maturity. Mating for this creature takes place in the spring, except for in South Africa where it takes place between the months of September and October.  Leopard Tortoise’s are monogamous and become aggressive when finding a mate. Males compete for females by shoving and ramming each other until one of them is turned over.  During mating, the males mount the female, extend their necks, and grunt.  Because it is considered a reptile, the Leopard Tortoise lays eggs.  The female burrows between 5 and 30 eggs in the ground to protect the future tortoises from predators.  Their eggs usually start off as almost soft and leather-like, but dry out and become hard and brittle.  Nearly 80% of hatchlings may eaten by predators such as foxes, coyotes, and mongooses.  The sex of the hatchlings is dependent on the temperature the eggs experience.  Over 30 degrees Celsius and females are created, under and males are created.  Most of the eggs will hatch between 47 and 180 days.  There is no parenting done, the hatchlings are immediately independent.  The Leopard Tortoise mates and repeats this cycle once yearly.

Habitat & Distribution needs a map

The Leopard Tortoise is a large species that is found throughout the South African Savannas.  It is distributed all the way from Sudan to the Cape, including the country of Botswana.  It is most often found in semi-arid areas like scrubland and grasslands, because they cannot survive in wet or cold areas.

Cultural Significance stamps? art?

Locally, it is considered an agricultural pest. The Leopard tortoise is beneficial to the areas it lives in by spreading seeds from place to place.  However, locals do benefit from the tortoise by eating their meat. recipe? They are also used for creating traditional medicines and are used to make tools.  As an indigenous food source, they are cooked in their shells, however, this does not occur frequently and does not seem to significantly affect population abundance.

The Leopard Tortoise is not on the endangered species lists, but their population is becoming increasingly threatened.  According to Schedule 2 of the Western Cape Nature Conservation Laws Amendment Act of 2000, leopard tortoises are classified as “protected wildlife”, which restricts trade of whole animals, dead or alive, and by-products of this species. The Leopard Tortoise has increasingly been kept in captivity.  This can be helpful to the population by preventing them from being hunted.  You can find these tortoises at zoos all over the United States and world. Globally, the Leopard Tortoise is sold as a pet. But other than that they do not play a large economic role globally.

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