Scientifically known as Stigmochelys pardalis, the Leopard tortoise are large and beautifully marked tortoise species that inhabit the savannah areas of eastern and southern Africa from Sudan to Southern Cape. Surprisingly, they are the only members of the Stigmochelys genus much as were categorized under the Geochelone genus in the past.
Leopard tortoises are widely distributed across the arid and savannah habitats of eastern and southern Africa stretching from South Sudan to Somalia then across East Africa to South Africa as well as Namibia. They are very rare or unlikely to be found within the humid forest regions of Central Africa. Over such home ranges, these animals inhabit most varied habitats. Of any African tortoise especially the thorn scrubs, grasslands, savannahs and mesic bushlands. Additionally, these tortoises can be spotted at elevations of up to 2,900 meters (9,500 feet).
These tortoises are grazers that prefer thorny, semi-arid to grassland ecosystems but during extreme hot and cold weather conditions, they inhabit the abandoned aardvark, foxes and jackal holes. Naturally, leopard tortoises don’t dig their own holes but instead make nests that are always used for laying eggs. However, due to the love for grassland habitats, the graze largely on mixed grasses much as they prefer thistle and succulents.
Are you aware that the leopard tortoises are the fourth largest leopard species in the World? Adults usually reach 40 centimeters (16 inches) and weigh 13 kilograms (29 pounds).Not only that, adults are usually larger within the northern and southern parts of their range where specimens weigh up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) and uniquely large tortoises cam measure up to 70 centimeters (28 inches) and weigh over 40 kilograms (88 pounds).
Leopard tortoises reach sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years and during the mating season, males fight over females while butting and ramming their competitors. Nesting usually occurs between May and October and the females dig holes to lay clutch of five to thirty eggs, and incubation takes from 8 to 15 months depending on the temperature.
Young adults and juvenile leopard tortoises are wonderfully marked with black blotches, spots and even dashes with stripes on yellow backgrounds. The mature adults on the other hand have markings that always fade to a non-descript or grey color. Their limbs and heads are evenly colored yellow, brown or tan.
Leopard tortoises are usually active during the day and less active during hot weather or the dry season.
They are herbivorous with their diet mainly comprising of succulents, forbs, grasses and thistles. Not only that, leopard tortoises sometimes feed on bones or surprisingly even hyena feces to obtain calcium that is very crucial for bone development as well as their egg shells. Due to the fact that the seeds consumed are passed out undigested through the gut, these animals are said to play an important role in seed dispersal.
Their predators are mainly crows, snakes, monitor lizards and jackals that usually consume their eggs and hatchlings while the adults have fewer natural predators although hyenas, leopards and lions have occasionally been reported to prey on them.