Leopard Tortoise - South African

Alternative Name
Scientific Name: Geochelone pardalis pardalis

Basic Info

The fourth largest tortoise found in the world today, the South African Leopard Tortoise can reach up to 23 inches in carapace length. Male South African Leopard Tortoises usually get larger than females. The Leopard Tortoise's shell is usually marked with dark blotches and pale areas, either very large and separated or closer together. Geochelone pardalis babcocki, the variety of Leopard Tortoise most often found in captivity, has a rounded and highly domed carapace, while the South African Leopard, Geochelone pardalis pardalis, has a less domed and more elongated shell. South African Leopard Tortoises also typically have "freckling", tiny irregular spots, on their skin. Freckling is most evident on hatchlings and younger individuals and often fades as the animal ages. Hatchling South African Leopard Tortoises will often show a pattern that is commonly called "twin-spotting" - two spots within one or more carapace scutes. These spots fade as the tortoise grows and ages. The degree of twin-spotting differs among individuals and Some South African Leopard Tortoises do not have any twin-spots. Even within a single clutch some may exhibit twin-spotting, while others do not.


Leopard Tortoises require a large enclosure, and ideally should be housed outdoors whenever weather permits. Leopard Tortoises are solitary animals in the wild and may become if crowded. When many are housed together they need sufficient room to get away from one another and many hiding spots. Males should not be housed together because of their tendency to spar for territory and breeding rights. They should always have access to shaded areas no hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and at night they should not be left out in temperatures colder than 65 degrees. When sunny daytime temperatures are less than 70 degrees, the tortoises should be housed in heated shelters. If housing them indoors, during the day the temperature within the enclosure should range from about 80 degrees Fahrenheit at the cool end to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking area. At night, the temperature should not fall below 70 degrees. They should be kept at low humidity levels, and they should be exposed to between 12 and 14 hours of full spectrum UV light per day. They can be provided with a shallow bowl of water large enough to soak in, or they can be soaked in shallow water periodically - about 3 times a week for those less than 1 year old and once a week for adults. Captive Leopard Tortoises should be allowed to graze. They do best with a diet consisting primarily of grasses. Their diet should be full of fiber and they should be given a calcium supplement. The diet can be supplemented with dark leafy green vegetables such as collards, kale, and turnip greens. Grape leaves, if available, are very nutritious and a good addition to the diet. They can also be fed fresh and dried alfalfa, but only in small amounts, as it is very high in protein. Fruit can be given in very small amounts, but should always be dusted with calcium. Breeding A very long-lived animal, the Leopard Tortoise is seldom sexually mature until it is between the ages of 12 and 15 years. Captive Leopard Tortoises, however, grow faster and may be sexually mature as young as 6 years of age. Leopard Tortoises "court" by the male ramming the female. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. After mating, the female lays a clutch consisting of between five and 18 eggs. The South African Leopard Tortoise is significantly more difficult to propagate in captivity than the common Leopard Tortoise, G. p. babcocki. Rarely will eggs hatch in an incubator. Most successes have occurred when eggs are left in the ground, and when the climate is similar to the natural one for these tortoises. Few people are consistently, successfully breeding these tortoises in captivity.

Leopard Tortoise - South African picture

Dwells in fairly dry regions that are either thorny or grassy


The South African Leopard Tortoise is a large, attractive tortoise found in South Africa. Leopard Tortoises exist in two subspecies, Geochelone pardalis pardalis is the South African Leopard Tortoise, and Geochelone pardalis babcocki is the common Leopard Tortoise. While not very common in captivity, the South African Leopard Tortoise is rapidly gaining in popularity, as it is bred more frequently. In the wild, the South African Leopard Tortoise dwells in fairly dry regions that are either thorny or grassy. They do not often live in regions where there is a great deal of precipitation, although some Leopard Tortoises have been found in rainier areas. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or anteater holes. Leopard Tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. It grazes on grass for most of the day. South African Leopard Tortoises also eat prickly pear pads and other succulents and their fruit. South African Leopard Tortoises are very intelligent, curious tortoises.


South Africa


South African Leopard Tortoises can only be found in parts of Cape Province and the south-western Orange Free State in South Africa. In some areas their ranges do intersect with the other Leopard Tortoise species, G. p. babcocki, and there is some interbreeding between the two.

Common Foods

Captive Leopard Tortoises should be allowed to graze. They do best with a diet consisting primarily of grasses. Their diet should be full of fiber and they should be given a calcium supplement. The diet can be supplemented with dark leafy green vegetable

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