Leopard tortoiseScientific Name Stigmochelys pardalis

Conservation Status Not Listed


The leopard tortoise is the world’s fourth largest tortoise species. Their elevated shell (known as a carapace) features a range of pyramid shaped peaks. These are coloured yellow or cream with black dots at the centre of the pyramids surrounded by dots, dashes and stripes of black. As they age these may fade to brown or grey.

Leopard tortoises can attain lengths of up to 61cm (2ft) long and can measure up to 32kg (70lb). Males are different to females as a result of their slightly longer tail.


The leopard tortoise can live for between 50 and 100 years.


Leopard tortoises are herbivores. Most of their diet is plants with a small amount of berries and fruits such as prickly pair also eaten. The majority of their diet consists of forbs. They also consume small amounts of bones as a means of obtaining extra calcium.


In the wild leopard tortoises can be found in Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Across their range can be found in habitats such as dry arid plains, shrub areas and temperate grasslands. They do not live in areas which are too cold and damp.


Mating takes place across most Africa in the spring with the exception being South Africa where it occurs during September and October. As you head North breeding seasons lasts for longer.

Males will spend days following around a female before mating with her. In their quest to find a female, males will spend their time pushing and butting each other until one is overturned and the other is able to approach the female and mount her. During this process he will emit a deep-pitched groan or bellow.

Following the mating females will dig a hole in the sand into which they can deposit their 5 to 30 eggs. They may do this 5-7 times in a single breeding season. Each clutch has 3 to 4 weeks in between being laid. The eggs are white and frail.

Leopard tortoiseThe eggs incubate in the ground for eight to eighteen months. Once they hatch the hatchlings come to the surface and are responsible for caring for themselves.

Sexual maturity is occurred at 5 years old.


Leopard tortoises would rather retreat into their shell when threatened than try to fight an attacker. While doing this they emit a squeaking sound. Predators of this species include humans, foxes, cats and mongooses.

These tortoises are extremely good climbers due to their toenails. They are also able to go underwater for up to 10 minutes.

Groups of leopard tortoises will form a social hierarchy with dominance established via aggression.

Quick facts

A group of tortoises is known as a creep.

The shell markings on each individual tortoise is unique to them.

When a leopard tortoise overturns their shell shape means that they are able to turn themselves.

Photo Credits:

By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons