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Leopard Tortoise

Taxonomy
Order: Chelonia
Family: Testudinidae
Genus/species: Geochelone pardalis

Description
The leopard tortoise is one of the largest mainland tortoises and has an elevated carapace that is tawny, yellow or buff, with brown centers to each scute with black radiations and spots. They are named for this coloring and pattern. They can reach about two feet (61 cm) in length and weigh up to 70 pounds (32 kg). The sexes are not obviously different in size. The male has a slightly concave plastron near the tail and a longer tail.

Distribution and Habitat
Leopard tortoises occur naturally throughout southern and eastern Africa from the coastal plains to elevations up to 10,000 feet (3,050 m) above sea level.

They occur in a variety of habitats, including grassland and scrub areas. Sheltering trees or bushes are necessary for them to escape the extreme midday tropical sun.

Diet in the Wild
They are herbivores and primarily eat grasses as well as succulent plants, toadstools, and fruit. They also eat old bones for calcium.

Zoo Diet
They are fed a prepared salad of kale, carrots, Denji hay, and tortoise pellets. In the summer, they have access to an outdoor yard where they graze on grass and mulberry browse.

Reproduction
Mating takes place in the spring, except in South Africa where it occurs in September and October. The breeding season tends to be longer in the northern part of their range. Males compete for females by pushing or butting one another until one is overturned. The winning male then approaches a female and smells the carapace, attempts to mount with neck outstretched, forefeet on the top of the carapace and hind feet on the ground.

Males emit deep-pitched groans or bellows while mounting. Up to 30 eggs, about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter, are laid in a nest ten inches (25.4 cm) deep. Eggs hatch eight to 18 months later. When egg laying, tortoises and some turtles may moisten hard ground by voiding water.

Life Span
Leopard tortoises may survive 75 years in captivity.

Status
They are listed on CITES Appendix II. Some of the species of Genus Geochelone may be threatened, with only the Galapagos, Madagascar radiated, and angulated tortoises being on the endangered list. They are eaten by people.

Fun Facts
Some believe that you can determine the age of a tortoise by counting the rings on its shell. However, this is not possible. The rings or scutes are formed during growth periods and leopard tortoises (like all tortoises) may grow at different times and rates during the year.