Leopard tortoise - Wikipedia

Leopard tortoise
On the S90 Road north of Satara, Kruger National Park, South Africa
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Suborder: Cryptodira
Superfamily: Testudinoidea
Family: Testudinidae
Genus: Stigmochelys
S. pardalis
Binomial name
Stigmochelys pardalis
(Bell, 1828)[3][4]
  • Testudo pardalis
    Bell, 1828
  • Testudo biguttata
    Cuvier, 1829 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo armata
    Boie, 1831 (nomen nudum)
  • Testudo bipunctata
    Gray, 1831
  • Geochelone (Geochelone) pardalis
    Fitzinger, 1835
  • Megachersine pardalis
    Hewitt, 1933
  • Testudo pardalis pardalis
    Loveridge, 1935
  • Geochelone pardalis pardalis
    — Loveridge & E. Williams, 1957
  • Stigmochelys pardalis
    Gerlach, 2001
  • Centrochelys pardalis pardalis
    Vetter, 2002
  • Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis
    Bour, 2002
  • Psammobates pardalis
    Le, Raxworthy, McCord & Mertz, 2006
  • Testudo pardalis babcocki
    Loveridge, 1935
  • Geochelone pardalis babcocki
    — Loveridge & E. Williams, 1957
  • Geochelone babcocki
    Pritchard, 1967
  • Geochelone paradalis babcocki
    — Dadd, 1974
  • Geochelone pardalis baboocki
    Młynarski, 1976 (ex errore)
  • Centrochelys pardalis babcocki
    — Vetter, 2002
  • Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki
    — Bour, 2002
  • Geochelone pardalis babcockii
    Le, Raxworthy, McCord & Mertz, 2006 (ex errore)

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 Province. It is the only extant member of the genus Stigmochelys, although in the past, it was commonly placed in Geochelone.[3] This tortoise is a grazing species that favors semiarid, thorny to grassland habitats. In both very hot and very cold weather, it may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark burrows. The leopard tortoise does not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles.

Taxonomy and etymology[edit]

The phylogenic placement of the leopard tortoise has been subject to several revisions. Different authors have placed it in Geochelone (1957), Stigmochelys (2001), Centrochelys (2002), and Psammobates (2006). More recently, consensus appears to have settled on Stigmochelys, a monotypic genus.[3][4][1] Considerable debate has occurred about the existence of two subspecies, S. p. pardalis and S. p. babcocki, but recent work does not support this distinction.[1]

Stigmochelys is a combination of Greek words: stigma meaning "mark" or "point" and chelone meaning "tortoise". The specific name pardalis is from the Latin word pardus meaning "leopard" and refers to the leopard-like spots on the tortoise's shell.


Shell patterns fade in mature specimens.

The leopard tortoise is the fourth-largest species of tortoise in the world, with typical adults reaching 40 cm (16 in) and weighing 13 kg (29 lb). Adults tend to be larger in the northern and southern ends of their range, where typical specimens weigh up to 20 kg (44 lb), and an exceptionally large tortoise may reach 70 cm (28 in) and weigh 40 kg (88 lb).[6]

The carapace is high and domed with steep, almost vertical sides. Juveniles and young adults are attractively marked with black blotches, spots, or even dashes and stripes on a yellow background. In mature adults, the markings tend to fade to a nondescript brown or grey. The head and limbs are uniformly colored yellow, tan, or brown.[6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

They are widely distributed across the arid and savanna regions of eastern and southern Africa, extending from South Sudan and Somalia, across East Africa, to South Africa and Namibia. The species is generally absent from the humid forest regions of Central Africa. Over this range, the leopard tortoise occupies the most varied habitats of any African tortoise, including grasslands, thorn-scrub, mesic brushland, and savannas. They can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 2,900 m (9,500 ft).[3][1]

Ecology and behavior[edit]

Leopard tortoise eating plant material
Leopard tortoise eating

Leopard tortoises are herbivorous; their diet consists of a wide variety of plants including forbs, thistles, grasses, and succulents. They consume berries and other fruits when available.[7] They sometimes gnaw on bones or even ash and hyena feces to obtain calcium, necessary for bone development and their eggshells.[8] Seeds can pass undigested through the gut, so the leopard tortoise plays a significant role in seed dispersal. Normally active during the day, they are less active during hot weather or during the dry season.[1][6]

The leopard tortoise reaches sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years old,[1] and may live as long as 80 to 100 years.[9] During the mating season, males fight over females, ramming and butting their competitors. They trail after females for quite some distance, often ramming them into submission. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. Nesting occurs between May and October when the female digs a hole and lays a clutch of five to 30 eggs. As many as five to seven clutches may be laid in a single season. Incubation takes 8–15 months depending on temperature.[10] The numerous predators of the eggs and hatchlings include monitor lizards, snakes, jackals, and crows. Adults have few natural predators, but lions and hyenas have occasionally been reported preying on them.[1]


The leopard tortoise is a widespread species and remains common throughout most of its range. Human activities, including agricultural burning, consumption, and especially commercial exploitation in the pet trade, are potential threats, but have not yet caused significant population declines. They are increasingly being bred in captivity for the pet trade. For example, most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive-breeding programs, alleviating collection from the wild.[1]

The leopard tortoise has been listed in Appendix II of CITES since 1975, and in 2000, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease carried by tortoise ticks that could seriously impact the US livestock industry.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Baker, P.J.; Kabigumila, J.; Leuteritz, T.; Hofmeyr, M.; Ngwava, J.M. (2015). "Stigmochelys pardalis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015: e.T163449A1009442. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T163449A1009442.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. ^ a b c d Turtle Taxonomy Working Group (2014). "Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status" (PDF). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs. Vol. 5. IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. pp. 329–479. doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014. ISBN 978-0965354097.
  4. ^ a b Fritz, U.; Bininda-Emonds, O. R. P. (2007-07-03). "When genes meet nomenclature: Tortoise phylogeny and the shifting generic concepts of Testudo and Geochelone". Zoology. Elsevier. 110 (4): 298–307. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2007.02.003. PMID 17611092.
  5. ^ Fritz, Uwe; Havaš, Peter (2007). "Checklist of Chelonians of the World" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 57 (2): 294–295. doi:10.3897/vz.57.e30895. S2CID 87809001. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-16. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  6. ^ a b c Branch, Bill (2008). Tortoises, Terrapins & Turtles of Africa. South Africa: Struik Publishers. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-77007-463-7.
  7. ^ "Psammobates pardalis (Leopard Tortoise)". Animal Diversity Web.
  8. ^ "Psammobates pardalis (Leopard Tortoise)". Animal Diversity Web.
  9. ^ "Leopard Tortoise". Maryland Zoo. Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  10. ^ Ernst, Carl H.; Barbour, Roger W. (1989). Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 248–249. ISBN 9780874744149.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell T (1828). "Descriptions of three new Species of Land Tortoises". Zoological Journal 3: 419–421. (Testudo pardalis, new species, pp. 420–421). (in English and Latin).
  • Branch, Bill (2004). Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Third Revised edition, Second impression. Sanibel Island, Florida: Ralph Curtis Books. 399 pp. ISBN 0-88359-042-5. (Geochelone pardalis, pp. 29–30 + Plate 4).
  • Gray JE (1873). Hand-list of the Specimens of Shield Reptiles in the British Museum. London: Trustees of the British Museum. (Edward Newman, printer). iv + 124 pp. (Stigmochelys, new genus, p. 5).
  • Loveridge A (1935). "Scientific Results of an Expedition to Rain Forest Regions in Eastern Africa. I. New Reptiles and Amphibians from East Africa". Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoölogy at Harvard College 79: 1–19. (Testudo pardalis babcocki, new subspecies, pp. 4–5).

External links[edit]