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Leopard Tortoise

Stigmochelys pardalis
Conservation Status: 
Least Concern
South Africa

The Leopard Tortoise is a large and attractively marked tortoise found in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape.  It is the only member of the genus Stigmochelys, but in the past it was commonly placed in Geochelone instead.  This chelonian is a grazing species of tortoise that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats, although some leopard tortoises have been found in rainier area.  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.  Not surprisingly, given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses.  It also favors succulents and thistles, and (in captivity) the fruit and pads of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.). The African Leopard Tortoise typically lives 80 to 100 years.  

The leopard tortoise is the fourth largest species of tortoise in the world, with typical adults reaching 18-inches (460 mm) and weighing 40 pound (18 kg.). Large examples may be 70-centimeter (28 in) long and weigh up to 120-pound (54 kg.). an adult's maximum shell length can reach a 24-inch (610 mm) diameter.  The giant Ethiopian form might reach 100-centimeter (39 in) in rare cases.  Also, in much rarer cases in countries such as Sudan and their high humidity rainforests this type of tortoise can reach up to lengths of 45 inches.

It 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.

Leopard tortoises are herbivorous.  They are more defensive than offensive, retracting feet and head into their shell for protection.  This often results in a hissing sound, probably due to the squeezing of air from the lungs as the limbs and head retracted. 

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Leopard Tortoise", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.