The Leopard tortoise is a large and attractively marked tortoise and is the fourth largest species of tortoise in the world. Typical adults can reach approximately 46cm in length and can weigh up to 18kg. The carapace is high and domed, sometimes with pyramid shaped scutes. Juveniles and young adults are attractively marked and the markings on each individual are unique. The skin and background colour are cream to yellow, and the carapace is marked with black blotches, spots or even dashes or stripes. However, in mature adults the markings tend to fade to a slaty, nondescript brown or grey, commonly tinged with the local dust.
The leopard tortoise is found in the savannas of Eastern and Southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape of the continent and is the most widely distributed tortoise in Southern Africa. They are a grazing species of tortoise that favours semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats, although some leopard tortoises have been found in rainier areas.
In the wild, these herbivores species feed primarily on grasses, shrubs and succulent plants.
A very long-lived animal, the leopard tortoise reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 12 and 15 years. Captive leopard tortoises, however, grow faster and may mature as young as 6 years of age. Leopard tortoises “court” by the male ramming the female. When mating, the male makes grunting vocalizations. After mating, the female lays a clutch consisting of 5 to 18 eggs.
Leopard tortoises are more defensive than offensive, retracting feet and head into their shell for protection. This often results in a hissing sound, probably due to the squeezing of air from the lungs as the limbs and head are retracted.
In the wild, healthy populations of Leopard tortoise still exist in rural areas, national parks and nature reserves. However, it is a staple food item in the diets of many local peoples. In areas of significant human populations, the leopard tortoise is considered vulnerable.
The Leopard tortoise is listed in CITES Appendix II.