Bio Facts: Tortoise, Leopard
Geochelone pardalis pardalis
Sub-Saharan Africa, including southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Eastern Africa (including Natal), Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Southwest Africa
Semi-arid, thorny scrublands to grasslands
The leopard tortoise 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. An adult’s shell length can reach an 18” diameter.
In the wild - 30 years; in captivity - up to 50 years
Sexual maturity is attained under natural conditions between 12-15 years.
In the wild, they eat mixed grasses, the fruit and pads of the prickly pear, succulents and thistles. In the Zoo, they are fed turtle chow and assorted greens.
Leopard tortoises are herbivorous and are not known to bite. They are more defensive than offensive, retracting feet and head into their shell and presenting an almost impenetrable package.
Like most tortoises, they can retract their head and feet into their shell in defense when threatened. Like all tortoises and turtles, their mouth is a “beak” that can get overgrown if not fed the proper diet. The rear legs are very trunk-like, sort of like an elephant’s legs. 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.
Leopard tortoises are the fourth largest species of tortoise, after the Sulcata, and the Galapagos and Seychelles Island tortoises.
The tortoise is now a protected animal in many countries. It has been caught in huge numbers for many years to fuel the pet trade. Perhaps the popularity of this animal is because that it has associations with strength and immortality. In many cultures, people believe that the tortoise possess qualities that are associated 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.
Leopard tortoises are increasingly being bred in captivity. This is a positive development, as it should lead to a gradual reduction in demand for wild-caught animals. Nine times out of 10, 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 large amounts of time will be spent rehabilitating them. As of March 22, 2000, the USDA has banned importation of Leopard Tortoises, Bell’s Hingeback Tortoises and the African Spurred Tortoise.
In the wild, healthy populations still exist in rural areas, national parks and 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.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
This species first arrived in the animal collection in June 1983 but was a different subspecies, the Eastern leopard tortoise, which successfully reproduced here. The Western subspecies did not arrive in the collection until April 1992.