This is Torti, my Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis), who shared my life with me for almost 10 years since she was no larger than my hand. Destined for the pot or possibly muti (a term for traditional medicine in Southern Africa), I confiscated her from the aggressor and brought her home. My intention was always to release her into a safe environment, but these are becoming less and less due to the area becoming heavily built-up over the last decade.
But at the beginning of last summer, I decided it was time for Torti to be free and find a mate, in the wild they reach sexual maturity at 12-15 years, so I took her to the Krugersdorp Game Reserve where she will have a vast area to her disposal and possibly hook up with some handsome fellow!
These tortoises face many dangers like illegal trade in wildlife, body parts being used in traditional medicines, veld fires, road kills and many more. They are also killed for their shell, which is then used as a bowl.
The leopard tortoise is a generally solitary animal that spends the majority of it's time grazing on plants, which it can do effectively using it's sharp beak-like mouth. They are large tortoises (largest species in South Africa) that can weigh over 30kg and measure up to 60cm in length. Males have longer tails and a deep plastron (Bottom of shell) concavity as opposed to the females which have short tails and a flat plastron. Colouration is varied and the African Leopard Tortoise typically lives 80 to 100 years.
Due to it's fairly large size, the leopard tortoise has few natural predators within it's African habitats as many simply cannot penetrate the leopard tortoise's high-domed shell. Humans are the primary predators of the leopard tortoise along with the occasional wild cats and dogs.
Leopard tortoises are not able to reproduce until they are at least 10 years old (known as reaching sexual maturity). As with other tortoise and even reptile species, the female leopard tortoise lays her clutch of up to 18 eggs into a burrow in the ground, which is quickly covered to protect her young from hungry passers-by.
Although there are thriving populations of leopard tortoises in more remote areas, when they are close to humans, the leopard tortoise populations are generally suffering, something which is primarily due to over-hunting by humans.
Whilst tortoises in our climate here in South Africa do not strictly "hibernate", they do go through a "slowdown" of all activity. They will sleep more and eat less and generally just "park off" each day. Some will dig themselves into a "burrow" and remain there for long periods. Besides cover that I offered, Torti had several places in her enclosure where she preferred to spend the colder days. Other than a general health check every now and again, I left her alone but did check daily to see if she might have come out and then offered her some food.
They are commonly kept as pets and adapt well to captivity in most areas barring coastal Natal where the humidity affects them adversely. However, there's no great benefit to owning a tortoise or having it as a pet. It can't cuddle, it can't chirp back when you talk to it and doesn't take kindly to being carried around - and be prepared for some hard work. Feeding a tortoise and keeping it's enclosure clean is a daily exercise and when you go on holiday, be assured you know someone who is prepared to take on these tasks.
It is of course against the law to keep reptiles in captivity without a permit and in happier instances the owner of a newly acquired tortoise will apply for one. An official from Nature Conservation will then make sure that the facilities in which the reptile is to be kept are adequate and that the captive will be fed a proper diet.
Read more here about the Leopard Tortoise's diet and how to CARE FOR YOUR LEOPARD TORTOISE