African Spurred Tortoise

ZOO LOCATION: African Rift Valley

Lifespan: Up to 80 years

Wild Diet: Herbivorous; Mainly dried grasses and leaves from desert scrub.

Zoo Diet: Mixed green salad daily, fruit, vegetables and vitamins.

Predators: With their strong defenses, they have almost no predators other than humans and bush fires


IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Habitat/Range: Found in arid country, right across the southern fringes of the Sahara in North Africa.

Characteristics: The largest mainland tortoise, often 24 inches in length. Largest recorded was 30 inches, weighing 184 lbs. Name comes from the two or three strong spurs on each thigh. Carapace is rather flat, yellow or buff color with front margins deeply serrated and reverted (up-turned). Growth rings of the carapace are usually strongly in evidence. Male's plastron deeply concave.

Behavior: Avoids excessive moisture loss by having a highly impermeable skin and also by digging shallow burrows in the ground. Burrows may slope down to a depth of 30 inches. Does not hibernate; Sahara doesn't cool down as it is located in the tropics. Solitary, and quite strong.

Reproduction: Males reach sexual maturity when their carapace is about 35 cm in diameter. Copulation can take place anytime from June through March, and the nesting season is in autumn. The female kicks loose dirt out of the way and eventually creates a depression, and this may take her up to five hours. Four or five nests may be dug before she finally selects one to lay her eggs in. Once she selects one, an egg is laid every three minutes. Her clutch size may reach 15-30 eggs, sometimes more. After the eggs are laid, the female will fill in her nest. The eggs incubate underground for about eight months. When they hatch, the tortoises are only 4-6 cm in carapace length.

Conservation: Habitat loss is one of the major reasons that numbers have declined mainly due to urbanisation and over grazing by domestic livestock.This species is also eaten by nomadic tribes and used to make longevity potions in Japan. They are also captured and kept as pets in Europe and North America.