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African Tortoises

African Tortoises

There are many African tortoise species endemic to the continent of Africa. According to IUCN, there are still 22 extant African tortoises although 16 of these are threatened with extinction 5 are already extinct.

We will look at the most popular tortoise species endemic to Africa. So what is a tortoise? Well, a tortoise is more than just a land turtle. Tortoises are reptiles that are of the family Testudinidae of the order Testudines.

Some popular African tortoises include the sulcata (or African spurred) tortoise, leopard tortoise, Greek tortoise (also known as the common tortoise), and the Egyptian tortoise, to name a few.

1. Sulcata Tortoise

Wild african spurred tortoise
Wild african spurred tortoise

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Centrochelys sulcata
  • Other Names: African Spurred Tortoise
  • Average Adult Size: 6 to 10 inches / 79.30 to 110.13 lb
  • Estimated Lifespan: 54.3 years
  • Diet in the Wild: grasses and hays, edible weeds and flowers
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Beginners
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 80 ft²
  • Ambient Temperature: above 50 F
  • Basking Temperature: 90 to 95 F
  • Captive Diet: Commercial tortoise diet ex. grasses, and hays, edible weeds and flowers
  • Price: $110 to $1000

Sulcata tortoises are among the most popular tortoises kept as pets. These tortoises are endemic to the southern edge of the Sahara desert.

They can be found in grasslands and shrublands of Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Senegal.

The Sulcata tortoise may just be the most bred tortoise species. In the United States, young sulcatas ate the captive-bred specimens, while the large old animals were wild-caught. When in captivity, they prefer warmer climates where it doesn’t snow.

Sulcata tortoises are easy to care for and can adapt to a wide range of climates.

2. Egyptian Tortoise

Egyptian Tortoise
Egyptian Tortoise on sand with black background

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Testudo kleinmanni
  • Other Names: Kleinmann’s tortoise
  • Average Adult Size: 4 to 5.7 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 70-100 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Unknown
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Beginners
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 6 ft²
  • Temperatures: 73-77 °F at night and 98 to 105 °F during the day time
  • Humidity level: 30 to 40%
  • Captive Diet: Commercial tortoise diet, grasses, and hays, edible weeds, and flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, nettle
  • Price: >$700

The Egyptian Tortoise is endemic to Egypt and Libya. These turtles are also known as Kleinmann’s tortoise, Negev tortoise, and the Leith’s tortoise.

The species is critically endangered and are on the verge of extinction in the wild. The Egyptian Tortoise is a tiny turtle. In fact, it is the smallest tortoise in the northern hemisphere.

Due to the endangered nature of the Egyptian Tortoise, it is best to only acquire a captive bred specimen.

3. Leopard Tortoise

Leopard tortoise walking
Leopard tortoise walking

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Stigmochelys [Psammobates] pardalis
  • Average Adult Size: 18 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 50-100 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Vegetation – foliage & flowers, grains, seeds, and nuts
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Beginners
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 24 ft²
  • Temperatures: at least 65 °F at night and 80 to 90 °F during the day time
  • Humidity level: 75%
  • Captive Diet: Commercial tortoise diet, grasses, and hays, edible weeds, and flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, nettle
  • Price: >$1000

The leopard tortoise is a beautifully marked tortoise that lives in Subsaharan Africa.

Their beautifully marked caprice makes them desired by turtle enthusiasts all around the world.

These tortoises aren’t difficult to care for. However, you must maintain a high humidity level in their enclosure.

4. Ploughshare Tortoise

Angonoka-Tortoise
Ploughshare Tortoise (Angonoka Tortoise) walking in sand

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Astrochelys yniphora
  • Other Names: Angonoka Tortoise, Madagascar tortoise
  • Adult Size: 12.09 to 19.13 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 50-100 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Vegetation – foliage & flowers, grains, seeds, and nuts
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)

The angonoka tortoise is endemic to the island of Madagascar. Sometimes, the ploughshare tortoise is called the plowshare tortoise, the Madagascar tortoise, or the Angonoka tortoise.

This turtle is critically endangered and as such is closely protected by conservation laws all over the world. The pet trade of this turtle is illegal. 

The highly decorative carapace of this turtle makes it sought after turtle even though there are laws against trading them.

5. Common Tortoise

Common Tortoise (Testudo graeca)
Common Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Testudo graeca
  • Other Names: Greek tortoise
  • Average Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 50 – 125 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Vegetation – foliage & flowers, grains, seeds, and nuts
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Beginners
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 24 ft²
  • Temperatures: at least 65 °F at night and 75 to 85 °F during the day time
  • Humidity level: 75%
  • Captive Diet: Commercial tortoise diet, grasses, and hays, edible weeds, and flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, nettle
  • Price: $200

The greek tortoise is also known as the common tortoise, the spur-thigh tortoise, or the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise. There are about 12 subspecies of the common tortoise.

These include T. g. armeniaca – Armenian tortoise (Armenia), T. g. buxtoni (Caspian Sea), T. g. cyrenaica (Libya), T. g. floweri (Jordan), T. g. graeca (North Africa and South Spain), T. g. ibera (Turkey),  T. g. marokkensis (North Morocco), T. g. nabeulensis – Tunisian tortoise (Tunisia), T. g. soussensis (South Morocco), T. g. terrestris (Israel/Lebanon), T. g. whitei (Algeria), and T. g. zarudnyi (Iran/Azerbaijan). 

These small tortoises easily outlive their owners and are sometimes up for adoption. If you can it is best to adopt these adorable chelonians. While these turtles aren’t difficult to care for, they do require long term commitment.

6. Angulate Tortoise

Angulate Tortoise (Chersina angulata)
Angulate Tortoise (Chersina angulata)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Chersina angulata
  • Diet in the Wild: Vegetation – foliage & flowers including hibiscus (leaves and flowers), mackaya bella (flowers), and barleria (flowers)
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Temperatures: at least 50 °F at night and at least 70 F during the day time
  • Captive Diet: grasses, and hays, edible weeds, flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, & nettle, squashes, sweet potato, and green beans
  • Price: $1,500 and $2,500

C. angulata is quite an abundant tortoise in its native habitat in Namibia, South Africa, and the Dassen island. These chelonians aren’t considered endangered.

In fact, according to the IUCN, the wild populations are stable. The oval-shaped carapace of this turtle is black with yellowish squares at the center of the scutes, and triangular markings on the marginal scutes.

7. Spider Tortoise

Spider Tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides)
Spider Tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Pyxis arachnoides
  • Average Adult Size: 6 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 70 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Foliage, insects, droppings
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 6 ft²
  • Temperatures: at least 65 °F at night and 75 to 85 °F during the day time
  • Humidity level: 75%
  • Captive Diet: grasses, and hays, edible weeds, flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, nettle, romaine, banana, strawberries, white mushrooms, zucchini, carrot, green & red leaf lettuce, escarole, chicory
  • Price: $895

P. arachnoides is a critically endangered species that can only be found in Madagascar, in specific the southwestern region of the island.

Since the P. arachnoides is critically endangered there is very little known about the species, however, it is believed that they do live to be 70 years.

Because they are critically endangered the trade of this turtle is illegal in its native Madagascar.

8. Pancake Tortoise

Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)
Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Malacochersus tornieri
  • Average Adult Size: 6 to 7 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 35 years
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 4 ft²
  • Temperatures: at least 65 °F at night and 75 to 85 °F during the day time
  • Humidity level: 75%
  • Captive Diet: grasses, and hays, edible weeds, flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, nettle, romaine, endive, zucchini, carrot, green & red leaf lettuce, escarole, chicory, collard, turnip and mustard
  • Price: $650 to $1000

M. tornieri is a critically endangered species that is endemic to Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. This chelonian is called the pancake tortoise because of its flattened carapace which is interestingly just an inch tall. Because of its flat nature, the pancake tortoise is very light and fast.

M. tornieri is a critically endangered species and this is due to overharvesting for the pet trade.

9. Radiated Tortoise

Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)
Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Binomial Name: Astrochelys radiata
  • Average Adult Size: 16 inches
  • Estimated Lifespan: 60-80 years
  • Diet in the Wild: Foliage, grasses, fruit, and succulent plants
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)

Quick Care Sheet

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Enclosure Size:  at least 150 ft²
  • Temperatures: at least 65 °F at night and 70 to 95 °F during the day time
  • Captive Diet: grasses, and hays, edible weeds, flowers such as dandelion, hibiscus, nettle, romaine, endive, zucchini, carrot, green & red leaf lettuce, escarole, chicory
  • Price: $2,495

A. radiata is a critically endangered tortoise that is endemic to Madagascar. Because of its endangered status, trading in wild-caught A. radiata is illegal. However, A. radiata is captive bred successfully.

As such, you can always acquire a captive-bred A. radiata. You should never buy wild-caught species.

This species is called the radiated tortoise because of the yellow lines which radiate from the center of each scute. These patterns make the A. radiata a really attractive turtle.

Conclusion

There are many African tortoises and we have only covered 9 of the 22. Many of these species such as the Sulcata tortoise and the leopard tortoise are kept as pets all around the world.

Similarly, some species such as the greek tortoise is also endemic to parts of southern Europe and the middle east. Sadly, many of these African tortoises are threatened by extinction.

This is generally due to overharvesting and habitat destruction. Although these African tortoise species are protected by conservation laws, the wild populations are still on the decline.

As such, it is always advisable to acquire captive-bred turtles.

If you have any extra information or question on African tortoises, kindly leave a comment.

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