Our fortnightly look at Tilgate Nature Centre’s animal residents

Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.

Last time we revealed the tricks and tales of our yellow mongooses and this week we’ll be exploring the world of their rather heavier neighbours in the new African exhibit – a group of leopard tortoises.

jpco 11-6-14 Animal Magic - Leopard tortoises  (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-140906-115921001

jpco 11-6-14 Animal Magic - Leopard tortoises (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-140906-115921001

Leopard tortoises

Stigmochelys pardalis

Savannah home

Leopard tortoises are one of the world’s largest tortoise species, typically weighing in at around 18kg with the heaviest recorded individual reaching more than 40kg! They can also live to a ripe old age of between 80 and100 years old.

They inhabit the savannahs of eastern and southern Africa using the shade provided by bushes and burrows to escape the hottest part of the day. While burrows are very useful for leopard tortoises, they don’t actually dig their own preferring to use the burrows of other animals – the only time they will dig is when creating nests for their eggs.

Leopard tortoises bury their eggs to incubate them slowly in the warm sand with young tortoises hatching after about six month, when they are the size of a 50p piece – with a lot of growing ahead of them!

All in a name

The pardalis part of this species’ scientific name is from the Latin word pardus meaning leopard – a reference to the tortoises’ attractive cream/yellow and black-spotted shell. Did you know that a tortoise’s shell is actually called a carapace?

Just like their spotty namesake these animals can also be quite fierce and fast – especially when it comes to attracting females. Most of us think of tortoises as slow moving creatures but leopard tortoises can actually move surprisingly quickly when they want to and males will fight fiercely over females, biting and trying to tip one another over! 

Pets and customs

We have four leopard tortoises ranging in age from eight to over 20 years old – each still has a lot of growing to do! We hope the group will soon be joined by a large female

Two were pets who had outgrown their owner’s garden and the others were part of a group confiscated by customs after they were imported without the correct paperwork.

The quartet now live in the African extension of the Discovery Room and will soon have access to a large outdoor which includes a wallow and plenty of grasses and plants for them to feed on which we supplement with special pellets and plants picked from the park.

Come along to see our tortoises and remember to pay a visit to the other residents of our new African exhibit. For animal news and stories visit: www.tilgatenaturecentre.co.uk