Babcocki Leopard Tortoise
Stigmachelys pardalis babcocki
The 5 leopard tortoises at Chew Valley are often found grazing on grass and vegetation or munching on some leafy green vegetables! Henry, the small male, is extremely ticklish and always wins the race to the food!
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Found in semi-arid grasslands and savannahs in eastern and southern Africa.
The leopard tortoise grows to be 70cm in length and 54kg in weight; the 4th largest tortoise in the world. However, this is the smaller subspecies of leopard tortoise, but they still grow up to 50cm in length. A female has a flat plastron (base of the shell) whereas a male has a concaved one as this helps the male mount the female when mating as the plastron fits around the top of the female’s shell. They do not have a nuchal shield, which is the protective part of the shell above the neck. Therefore, they are the only tortoise which is able raise its head and swim. Their yellow and brown camouflage carapace is high and domed, which provides extra protection from the heat. Although they do not have ears, they use their keen sense of smell and vibrations to help them navigate and locate food.
They mainly feed on a variety of grasses and vegetation. They also eat hyena faecal matter and bones as both contain high levels of calcium which is important to keep the shells intact and help develop developed eggshells.
As they live in habitats where it is warm all year round, they do not hibernate. However, they slow their metabolism during the cooler months to conserve energy. When threatened they will retract their head and limbs into the shell and also empty their bowels and stored water to deter predators.
During the breeding season, both sexes become aggressive; headbutting competitors away from their mates. After copulation, the female will lay up to 5-7 clutches of 30 eggs in burrows they have dug. The eggs are incubated for 129 day, although this incubation period can be anytime between 88 and 163 days. The majority of the gender of the hatchlings depend on the temperature in the burrow. If the temperature is between 31-34°C, most hatchlings will be female, whereas if it is lower than this then more males will hatch.
Least Concern; but are threatened by poaching and habitat loss.
They can feel their shells and are even ticklish!