Last week one of our team members came across a road-side trader that held up a reasonably large leopard tortoise. He turned around and found another leopard tortoise as well as a hinged back tortoise hidden in a box.
The trader offered to sell the tortoises to him for R500.00. The moment the tortoises were put on the back of his vehicle and the trader walked up to the window to collect his money; our guy simply drove off. It is illegal to trade with tortoises without have the necessary conservation permits.
The leopard tortoise is a large species of tortoise found throughout the African savannahs and the forth largest species of tortoise in the world. It is also the most widely distributed tortoise species in Southern Africa and they can live for between 50 to 100 years.
Although many species of tortoise are becoming increasingly threatened, leopard tortoises have not been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are endemic to Africa and are currently listed under CITES’ Appendix II
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.
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.
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.
The 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.