Animal Information

The Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)

“Stigmochelys pardalis” is a combination of Greek words: stigma meaning “point” and pardalis meaning "spotted".

The Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) belong to the family of “land tortoises” known as Testudinae

“Stigmochelys” is a combination of Greek words: stigma meaning “mark” or “point”* and chelone meaning “tortoise”. The specific name pardalis is from the Latin word pardus meaning “spotted” and refers to the leopard-like spots on the tortoise’s shell.

Because this species is so varied, some people have thought that there should be several subspecies. 

Recent DNA work, however, suggests that the two subspecies are probably not valid and that this is just a single species without any valid subspecies

 There has been considerable debate about the existence of two subspecies. This subspecies is currently known by Stigmochelys and Stigmochelys babcocki.

The consensus appears to have settled on Stigmochelys, a monotypic genus.

Captive Leopard Tortoises Can Live For 75 Years!

Wild Tortoises Can Live 70-100 Years!

We Do Not Recommend Mixing Species Of Tortoises. But In This Case, These Two Africans Are Friends. 

Africa supports more species of land tortoise than anywhere else. The leopard tortoise is 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 Leopard Tortoise can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 9,500 ft.  Over this range, the leopard tortoise occupies the most varied habitats of any African tortoise.

The cold-blooded animal can be found in areas including semi-arid grasslands, thorn-scrub, mesic brushland, and savannas. In both very hot and very cold weather, they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes.

Leopard Tortoise Description

There is a wide array of colors, shapes, and sizes of Leopard Tortoise found throughout their range. 

Leopard Tortoises are the only tortoise not to have a nuchal shield (the protective scute above the neck).

This means the leopard tortoise is the only member of the family that can raise its head and is the only member that can swim.

The largest Leopard Tortoises come from the northern limits of their range in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, where 26- to 28-inch tortoises are not uncommon, and there are reports of tortoises more than 39 inches long, thus making it the fourth largest tortoise species.

Between the northern and southern limits, there are populations of adult tortoises that grow no more than 12 inches.

The average Leopard Tortoise available in the United States will grow to about 14 to 18 inches.

Leopard Tortoise Diet

Leopard tortoises are herbivors

Leopard Tortoises are herbivorous grazers. Given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles. 

Pesticide-free grass is good for grazing during warm weather and their daily diet should consist primarily of grasses such as timothy or hay. Small amounts of vegetables can be offered too.

Avoid feeding a Leopard Tortoise anything high in oxalates, such as beet greens, swiss chard, and spinach, or fruit, which can cause digestive problems and diarrhea, leading to dehydration.

Never feed Leopard Tortoise dog food, cat food, or other animal protein. These could cause damage to your leopard tortoise’s kidneys.

Daily calcium and vitamin D3 supplements are recommended for leopard tortoises. Pieces of cuttlebone, which can be found in the bird section of most pet stores, can also be provided for gnawing on, to promote beak health and provide extra calcium.

Housing Leopard Tortoises…

Leopard Tortoises can deal with a wide range of temperatures. However, it will not tolerate cold damp conditions.

Nighttime temperatures should be between 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Daytime temperatures should be 82 to 86 degrees with a basking spot of 88 to 92 degrees.

A heat lamp or ceramic heat emitters can help you achieve these temperatures. It is also suggested that an ultraviolet lightbulb be provided during the day. It is important to provide 12 to 14 hours of light a day.

Leopard Tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. 

Breeding Leopard Tortoises…

The Leopard Tortoise is an oviparous vertebrate reptile, which means that it reproduces by laying eggs. 

Leopard Tortoises breed from May to October. Males become reproductively mature by five years of age. Females are thought to become reproductively mature later than males, around ten to twelve years of age.

Leopard Tortoises are monogamous, and both males and females become increasingly aggressive when searching for a mate. They fight for mates by butting and ramming rivals.

During courtship, males follow their potential mate and repeatedly run into them until the females become immobilized. Males sometimes lift their mate off the ground by ramming them.

Females become defensive trying to escape. After some convincing the mating begins. During copulation, males mount the female and extend their necks and grunt during mating

Female tortoises have the ability to store sperm inside themselves in order to fertilize the eggs that they lay. This sperm can be stored and still be functional for 3 years.

When ready, females dig a hole in the ground about 10-30 cm deep and lay from 5-30 eggs at a time. They may lay as many as 5-7 clutches per nesting season with each clutch separated from the previous by about 3 to 4 weeks.

Tortoise gestation is quite remarkable with regards to the time involved. Because the female can vary the length of the gestation period (from fertilization to laying) depending on the environmental and nesting conditions. 

After fertilization the tiny eggs are segregated into clutches of two to twelve, depending on the species, then one clutch at a time are allowed to grow to full size.

These full-size eggs are then “shelled”, ready for laying. The egg shells are a similar density and appearance to a chicken egg, only smaller and more spherical. Once the pregnant female finds a suitable nesting area, sufficient to be able to incubate the eggs, she will proceed to lay the clutch.

Some weeks afterward, another stored clutch of fertile eggs will be allowed to grow to fill size, be shelled and eventually laid. The procedure continues until all of the eggs have been expelled.

Hatching Leopard Tortoises…

Leopard Tortoises are oviparous, and their eggs are initially leather-like but dry to become hard and brittle. The egg contains a large, nutrient-rich yolk, which the embryo feeds on during development.

Gestation ranges from 9 to 12 months and varies according to location, temperature, and precipitation. 

Sex determination is temperature dependent; females develop under average temperatures of 86  degrees Fahrenheit.

Males develop under average temperatures of less than 86 degrees

Temperature-dependent sex determination suggests that the mother has some control over the sex ratio of her offspring.

If she lays her eggs in a warm environment the sex ratio favors females, whereas a cool environment favors males. 

After hatching, young tortoises grow very rapidly during the first few months of life. In general, hatchlings in this genus weigh around 100 grams and grow between 300 and 400 grams during their first year of life.

Are Leopard Tortoises Endangered?

The Leopard Tortoise is a widespread species and remains common throughout most of its range.

The Leopard Tortoise has been listed in Appendix II of CITES since 1975 and in 2000, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease carried by tortoise ticks that could seriously impact the US livestock industry. 

Human activities, including agricultural burning, consumption, and especially commercial exploitation in the pet trade, are potential threats but have not yet caused significant population declines.

They are increasingly being bred in captivity for the pet trade.

For example, most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive breeding programs, alleviating collection from the wild.

 Leopard Tortoise is hunted as a source of food and collected from the wild due to tortoise or pet trade. It is declared as vulnerable in some parts of its range.

The following is a chart showing the changes made to the CITES listing.

January 2018DjiboutiCITES Notif. No. 2018/015All trade in specimens of CITES-listed species.
January 2018Democratic Republic of the CongoCITES Notif. No. 2018/006All exports.
January 2011DjiboutiCITES Notif. No. 2011/010All commercial trade in specimens of CITES-listed species.
July 2004SomaliaCITES Notif. No. 2004/055All commercial trade in specimens of CITES-listed species.

As of July 17, 2001, federal law requires that any Leopard Tortoise, African Spurred Tortoise or Bell’s hinge-back tortoise transported across any state line be examined by an accredited veterinarian and certified tick-free.

Due to the restrictions on importing Leopard Tortoise, make sure you’re getting one from a reputable breeder who can produce the animal’s health history.

A healthy tortoise has a smooth shell and clear eyes, and if you can watch it eat, you’ll be able to glean a lot, because leopard tortoises are eating machines. If it’s offered food and refuses it, that could be a sign the animal is unwell.

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