Northern Leopard Tortoise

Lifespan: Up to 50 years

Wild Diet: Grasses, cactus and weeds

Zoo Diet: Soaked dog food, mixed green salad daily, fruit and vegetables, vitamins.

Predators: Young are easy prey for monitor lizards, storks, crows and small mammals


IUCN Status: Not Evaluated

Zoo Location: Bird and Reptile House

Habitat/Range: Mostly semi-arid (not dry) to savannahs of Sudan and Ethiopia.

Characteristics: Large, grazing species of tortoise 16-18 inches long and weigh 40-50 pounds. Second largest tortoise in Africa (largest African Spurred Tortoise). Some reach up to 24 inches and 70 lbs. Males larger than females. Brown and yellow. The shell consists of interconnected bony plates which include the expanded and fused ribs, with the backbone fixed permanently in place. Both the carapace and plastron are covered on the outside with a layer of large horny plates or scutes. The suture lines between the scutes do not align with those of the bony plates, adding to the strength of the shell.

Behavior: One of the few tortoises that will "swim". It will run along the bottom of a shallow area. Will bask in the sun to warm up each morning. When it gets too hot will retreat to the shade. Keen eyesight and a well-developed sense of smell and taste. No external ear openings so they do not hear well. May bury itself to hibernate in cool parts of its range and to estivate in the hotter parts of its habitat to avoid dehydration and the excessive heat. They remain in this dormant state until the weather improves and the rains return. Known to undertake extensive migrations in search of food.

Reproduction: Males compete for females by pushing and butting until one of the contenders is overturned. Nest in September and October in South Africa. Longer nesting season in tropical Africa. After urinating to soften the soil, the female digs a 12 inch pit using her hind legs for the nest cavity. She lays 5-30 round eggs with tough shells, resistant to damage and rapid dehydration, in the pit and refills it. Eggs laid at three week intervals for twenty weeks. Hatch one year later. Using her shell, she taps on the soil by lifting and dropping it, essentially packing the soil down. Hatchlings wait several weeks for rain to soften the ground before burrowing to the surface. They use their egg tooth to break the shell. Sexually mature at 6 to 10 years.

Conservation: Leopard tortoises are popular pets. Their wild populations have not been evaluated by the IUCN. If you are considering an exotic pet such as this tortoise, remember to purchase only from a trusted breeding source and do not take animals who were acquired from the wild.