The Leopard tortoise forms part of the Small Five and is known as the world’s fourth largest tortoise species. Weighing up to 32kg (70lb) and measuring up to 61cm (2ft), they can live for between 50 and 100 years; giving them a very long time to become that size.
This calm and collect creature is no fighter. They prefer to retreat into their shell when threatened and emit a squeaking sound.
The Leopard Tortoise feeds mostly on plants – such as grass, berries, and even prickly pear. The exception is that they gnaw on bones (teeth seems to be the only thing this animal lacks) to obtain the extra needed calcium for shell growth and eggshell development. But this tortoise doesn’t just take, it also gives back to the environment. They are important seed dispersers and defecate under bushes, where the seeds have a better chance of growing.
Males have a slightly longer tail than females and each individual’s shell is different to those around them; making them unique. Their toenails enable them to be well-equipped climbers. They also have the ability to fully submerge underwater for 10 minutes while they enjoy swimming.
Once the Leopard Tortoise reaches 5 years of age, it is sexually mature. Breeding for these reptiles takes place across most of Africa in the spring. The male will spend days following the female around. While on his quest, he will bite and push other males away. The goal of the male is to flip other males over in order to eliminate the opposition and mount the chosen female he is following. During this process, he will emit a deep-pitched groan or bellow. After this, the female will dig a hole in the sand and deposit 5 to 20 eggs into it. A number of eggs the female lay depends on her size. Once these hatchlings see the world for the first time they are left to care for themselves and explore.
Written by: Tersha van Staden