Natural History Information
- Leopard tortoises live between 50 and 100 years in the wild.
- Life Cycle Natural History Relevant Information
- Leopard tortoises readily drink standing water. A shallow water dish may be provided, but check it daily, and clean it as required. The size of the water dish doesn’t really matter, however it shouldn’t be too deep where the tortoise could get stuck in the dish.
- Leopard tortoises are not escape artists and do not climb, burrow, or display the aggressive breeding, biting and ramming that the Mediterranean species do. Multiple males and females may be kept together as they are not territorial like African spurred tortoises.
- Leopard tortoises do not hibernate. In parts of their range they may experience freezing temperatures and seek shelter in animal burrows, but in most of their range they experience a much narrower range of temperatures.
- Temperature, Humidity, Light Cycles
- Temperature: 75-90 F; basking 95 F. In outdoor enclosures leopard tortoises may handle a wider range of temperatures, but once temperatures drop into the 50s at night or daily high temperatures fail to exceed 70 degrees, move tortoises indoors or provide heat.
- Lighting: Exposure to natural sunlight or UVB light plays an important role in how the body absorbs and uses calcium. UVB light or natural sunlight allows the tortoise to produce vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is critical to the tortoise in its ability to absorb and use the available calcium. UVB can be obtained from fluorescent tubes specially made for reptile use or from mercury vapor bulbs, which also provide some heat. If fluorescent tubes are used for UVB, a separate light may be required for heat.
- Social Housing/Colony Management
- A pair of leopard tortoises can be kept in a 10 foot by 10 foot pen. The walls should be at least 18 inches high and may be made of wood, block or other material that prevents the tortoise from seeing through the wall.
- Dimorphism: Females often grow larger than males, however depending on the origin of the specimen this may be reversed, or male and females may be of similar size. Due to wide geographic variations there are no set standards. Males may always be distinguished from females by their concave plastron and larger tail.
- Other General Housing Requirements or Management information
- Enclosure should have a hide box and, if outdoors, a variety of shrubs, grass or bushes to provide the tortoise with protection from the elements and a sense of security. A portion of the pen may be planted with grass or alfalfa for the tortoises to eat.
- Adult leopard tortoises measure from 10 to 18 inches long depending on the geographic origin and subspecies of the tortoise. The South African subspecies, Stigmachelys pardalis pardalis, may grow to 24 inches and the giants from Ethiopia and Somalia may approach 30 inches.
- Diet in the Wild
- As grazers, leopard tortoises feed on a variety of grasses and vegetation. They require a high-fiber diet rich in calcium.
- Diet under human care
- In addition to grazing the captive diet may be supplemented a couple times a week with collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and flowers, hibiscus leaves and flowers, grape leaves, escarole, mulberry tree leaves, spineless cactus pads (Opuntia spp.), carrots, zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkin, mushrooms, sweet potato, yellow squash, and bell peppers.
- Commercial diets may also be included in the diet.
- A small portion of the leopard tortoise’s diet may include fruits, such as tomatoes, apples, papayas, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, mangos and bananas. Fruit should be no more than about 5 percent of the overall diet.
- Respiratory problems may occur when a leopard tortoise gets chilled or is kept in suboptimal conditions. Minor problems may be corrected with increased temperatures. If not corrected, minor problems can progress to more serious conditions such as pneumonia. Signs of a respiratory problem include labored breathing, a nasal discharge, a gaping mouth, puffy eyes, lethargy and a loss of appetite.
- Other Enrichment Resources
- Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
- Advancing Herpetological Husbandry July 2018 Quarterly Newsletter- Environmental Enrichment for Reptiles By Charlotte James
- Threats and Conservation Status
- In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet. Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems. Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters.
Handling & Presentation Tips
- Brandywine Zoo: During cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle set to one side of the cooler. Wrap bottle with newspaper for lizards or snakes traveling with the bottle loose, to make cleanups easier in the case of defecation while traveling.
- Brandywine Zoo: reptiles travel in a stackable Coleman style cooler that has been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). With box turtles, the cooler is lined with newspaper.
- Import of wild caught specimens into the United States was banned in 2000 due to concerns from a tick with heartwater disease found on wild specimens. Before the ban leopard tortoises were commonly imported, and many people currently breed leopard tortoises, however Stigmachelys pardalis pardalis is less common in collections than Stigmachelys pardalis babcocki.
- After looking at other AZA institutions for surplus animals, check with your local herpetological society and reptile rescue organizations. Many of these animals are purchased by the public at reptile stores and expos and owners are unable to keep them for their whole lifespan. If purchasing, look for a reputable breeder to avoid wild caught specimens.
- Check out sample animal policies, handling sheets, and fact sheets on our Example Policies & Guidelines page
- View past issues of Program Animal SAG Newsletters
- Ambassador Animal SAG Newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 3: Temperature and Transport: Welfare Implications for Ambassador Ectotherms
- Choice, Control, and Training in Ectotherms, By Carrie Kish
- Stress Management in Reptiles and Frogs
- Check out the Advancing Herpetological Husbandry Facebook group. They have also published several newsletters (see Reptiles page for links).
Contributors and Citations
- Cover image: JERRY D. FIFE
- Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
- Brandywine Zoo
- Philadelphia Zoo
- Reptiles Magazine
Comments from the Rating System
- Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square: We have 2 male Leopard Torts who go on exhibit and also for public programming. They are a popular attraction since they are so large, well-behaved, and active. They can get heavy during handling so some of our older volunteers have problems handling them. Otherwise we have no issues with them.
- Philadelphia Zoo: an easy, generally small-to-medium sized tortoise