Leopard Tortoise Care Sheet

Leopard Tortoise Care Sheet

 The Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) 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.  This tortoise is a grazing species of tortoise that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats, 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. 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 year

Its generic name is a combination of two Greek words: Stigma meaning “mark” or “point”* andChelone meaning “tortoise”. Its specific name pardalis is from the Latin word pardus meaning “leopard” and refers to the leopard-like spots on the tortoise’s shell

The leopard tortoise is the fourth largest species of tortoise in the world, with typical adults reaching 18-inch and weighing 40-pound.Large examples may be 28 inches long and weigh up to 120-pound.An adult’s maximum shell length can reach a 24-inch diameter.  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.

 They are 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. Males are normally a bit more elongated and narrower than the females that are rounder and wider.


Leopard Tortoises are more defensive and non aggressive.  They retract their 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 are retracted.   Leopard tortoises are peaceful and slow moving. They are social and do little damage to their environment.  Most will not dig or burrow.  Some tortoises can be skittish if spooked, but most will eagerly come to their keepers looking for food once they are comfortable in their environments. They are not very good climbers and make little attempt to escape, so a short, basic wall will contain most leopard tortoises.


Like most tortoises, they can retract their head and feet into their shell in defense when threatened.  The rear legs are very trunk-like, 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.  Younger animals have a surprising ability to climb, as their toenails provide a very secure grip on wood, concrete, and rough stone surfaces. Small Leopard Tortoises (under 6 inch length) have been observed climbing vertically up and over a 12-inch-high wooden board intended to be an enclosure boundary.


Leopard Tortoises like hot, dry climates. This is one of the few tortoises that struggle in high humidity areas (they can handle moderate humidity). They do not hibernate, but will go through a winter slow down period during cooler weather and shortened day lengths. As adults, they can safely handle body temperatures as low as 60 degrees at night as long as they are able to heat up into the 80’s during the day. Summer highs up to 120 degrees can be tolerated as long as there is a cooler, shaded area the tortoise can get into. In cooler weather the tortoises should be kept dry. As babies these tortoises are kept indoors on a cypress substrate kept mostly dry with a hide that they can get into at night.  Temperatures fluctuate between 65 at night up to 85-90 during the day.   Keep the hide heated to around 80 at night with a red bulb placed overhead.  Being a desert tortoise, they should have intense lighting, with the UVB lights on during the day and off at night.  We use full spectrum UVB lights, which are mandatory for the growth of healthy tortoises.


This tortoise is naturally a grazer, and will wander about nibbling on grass the majority of its natural life. In captivity, leopard tortoises will graze on grasses, as well as leafy greens and dandelions.  As babies, we focus more on feeding them a wide mix of leafy greens (spring mix), since they have a harder time eating the more tough grass. Vegetables can be added to the diet for variety, but fruit should generally be avoided.  Moistened Mazuri tortoise diet is mixed into the spring mix a few times a week.   Sprinkle the food lightly with a calcium supplement 2 or 3 times a week and a multivitamin supplement 1-2 times a week. The tortoises are removed from their enclosure and soaked in a separate 1/4″ deep pan of warm water generally 3 days a week for 30 minutes each time.


Leopard tortoises are increasingly being bred in captivity. This is a positive development, as it should lead to a gradual reduction in demand for animals caught in the wild. As of March 22, 2000, the USDA has banned importation of the Leopard Tortoises.

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