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Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys Pardalis)

Leopard Tortoise Care [Complete Care Guide]

Leopard tortoise care can be a daunting commitment, but for experienced keepers, these gentle giants make excellent pets. Leopard tortoises need a lot of space, and would ideally be kept outside to give them room to roam.

Hailing from dry savannas and grasslands in Africa, Leopard tortoises are one of the largest tortoise species in the world. They are also calm and docile in captivity, with plenty of domestic breeders and support. Here is our complete care guide for Leopard tortoises.

Quick reference section

Leopard tortoise in South African national park
Leopard tortoise in South African national park
  • Experience level: Intermediate to Advanced
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific name: Stigmochelys pardalis
  • Other names: Giant Leopard Tortoise
  • Adult Male Size: 9 to 18 inches
  • Adult Female Size: 14 to 20 inches
  • Average Lifespan: 50 to 100 years
  • Average Price Range: $350 to $3000
  • Where to buy?: tortoisetown.com, CBReptile.com
  • Books: Leopard Tortoise as Pets (Ben Team)

Interesting facts about Leopard Tortoises

Leopard tortoises are the fourth-largest tortoises in the world and the second-largest species in Africa.

In native habitats, Leopard tortoises in the extreme north and south of their ranges seem to be the largest members of the species.

Leopard tortoises don’t grow new scutes as they age, they simply expand. So by looking at the scutes of a Leopard tortoise, you can roughly gauge how old it is.

What does a Leopard Tortoise look like?

Leopard Tortoise in kruger national park south africa
Leopard Tortoise in kruger national park south africa

Leopard tortoises are large terrestrial tortoises with high domed shells that have very steep drops at the side. Their skin is brown or tan.

In younger tortoises, a beautiful black and yellow spot pattern covers the shell, giving them their “Leopard” name. These markings fade as the tortoise ages.

How big do Leopard Tortoises get?

Leopard tortoises are some of the largest tortoises in the world. Average adults reach around 16 to 18 inches long and around 40 to 50 lbs in weight. Females are usually larger than males, but this can vary.

Extremely large individuals such as a South African Leopard tortoise may be as long as 28 inches and weigh almost 90 lbs! This is uncommon though.

Where do Leopard Tortoises live?

Leopard tortoises are an African species native to eastern and southern regions such as South Sudan, Somalia and in places such as Namibia and South Africa. They are rarely found in Central parts of the continent.

What kind of habitat do Leopard Tortoises need?

Leopard tortoise by grass getting some shade
Leopard tortoise by grass getting some shade

In the wild, Leopard tortoises inhabit dry savanna regions and grasslands. They do not like humid conditions and are terrestrial tortoises.

In captivity, the best habitat to provide for a Leopard tortoise is an outside area to roam, as they are large tortoises and need space to move around and graze.

How long do Leopard Tortoises live in captivity?

The average lifespan for a Leopard tortoise is between 50 and 100 years. They are extremely long-lived and you should take this into account when considering them as a pet. In captivity, they may live for between 30 and 75 years.

What do Leopard Tortoises eat?

Leopard tortoises are herbivorous grazers. They mainly eat grass and other vegetation and are partial to thistles and succulents.

A daily diet should mainly consist of grasses, some greens, and hay. If kept indoors, a leopard tortoise will require a calcium and Vitamin D3 supplement.

Dandelions and vegetation such as collard greens can be good occasional foods to add.

How do Leopard Tortoises breed?

Leopard tortoise walking on dirt
Leopard tortoise walking on dirt

During breeding seasons, males will battle each other for the attentions of a female. They will then follow the female before mating.

Eggs are laid in burrows which the female digs. This is the only time that Leopard tortoises burrow or dig. Between five and 30 eggs are laid, up to seven times per season.

What predators do Leopard Tortoises face?

The main threats from predators affect young Leopard tortoises or eggs. At this stage, they are preyed on by birds such as crows, jackals, lizards, and snakes.

Adults face fewer natural predators due to their size, but there have been some instances of hyenas or lions taking Leopard tortoises on occasion.

Leopard Tortoise Care sheet

Habitat

Leopard tortoise in water soaking in South Africa
Leopard tortoise in water soaking in South Africa

Enclosure

The best place to house your Leopard tortoise is always going to be outside. These large tortoises need a lot of space to walk around and a large patch of grass to forage on. However, you should only keep a Leopard tortoise outside if you live in an area with the correct temperatures.

Creating an outdoor enclosure for an adult Leopard tortoise can be a bit of work. It needs to be big enough and should also provide some form of hiding space for your tortoise.

Providing tortoise-safe plants will also provide shelter and a natural feel to the space.

Your backyard should be fully enclosed to prevent tortoise escapes or predators from attacking your reptile. If you have dogs, it is not a good idea to add a Leopard tortoise to the mix, even with well-behaved dogs.

If you really must keep your adult Leopard tortoise indoors, you’ll probably need to build a custom enclosure or even give them a spare room of their own.

Any indoor space should measure around 10 feet x 10 feet x 2 feet high. This room will also need to be warm and dry.

If you have hatchlings they must be kept indoors for safety, otherwise they could be taken by predators.

Recommended Basic Products

When it comes to keeping a Leopard tortoise, there are a few essential items you’ll need. Most of these apply mainly if you are keeping your tortoise indoors. We’ve provided a list below.

 As far as enclosures go, we’ve suggested a good enclosure for hatchlings and juveniles, but adult Leopard tortoises are going to need a custom-built enclosure.

Cleaning

Whether you house them indoors or outdoors, cleaning the enclosure for a Leopard tortoise is pretty simple. Spot clean the enclosure whenever necessary, especially any waste. Change the water receptacle once a day.

Substrate

Leopard tortoise trying to climb up a mound of dirt
Leopard tortoise trying to climb up a mound of dirt

Any Leopard tortoise substrate used should be relatively dry and shouldn’t retain moisture. Hay or a mix of sand and soil is a good choice. This should be deep enough for your tortoise to burrow into if it wants.

Temperature

Because they come from a more arid climate, Leopard tortoises will need high temperatures all year round. This makes them unsuitable pets to have in some areas of the country.

The ambient temperature during the day should range from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, Leopard tortoises can tolerate temperatures of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

For basking, make sure that an area of your yard or the tortoise’s enclosure receives direct sunlight for a decent portion of the day. Your tortoise can then move between hot and cooler areas as it needs.

If you’re housing your Leopard tortoise indoors, you’ll need to provide a basking spot with UVB and heat lamps. The basking temperature needs to be 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Providing a couple of heat lamps will help your Leopard tortoise warm itself evenly.

If exposed to conditions that are too cold, your tortoise may develop health issues such as breathing problems.

Humidity

Leopard tortoises like drier conditions and don’t cope well with too much humidity. Between 40% and 60% should be the maximum humidity level.

You should have both dry and humid areas in the enclosure or yard, such as a humid box or hide. This gives your Leopard tortoise options depending on what they feel they need.

Hatchlings will need higher humidity to promote healthy growth.

Lighting

Like all tortoises, Leopard tortoises will need access to ultraviolet rays to help them get the calcium and vitamins they need to be healthy.

If your tortoise lives outdoors then they should be fine for UV light as they can get what they need from direct sunlight.

If housed indoors, you’ll need to provide UVB light in the form of a desert-strength bulb or fluorescent tube. This light needs to cover the full UV spectrum.

Without sufficient UVB light, your Leopard turtle may develop issues like Metabolic Bone Disease, which can cause deformities such as pyramiding.

The light should be set to a 12-hour day/night cycle to stimulate the natural passing of the sun. the area underneath the light should be dry.

Mercury vapor bulbs, such as the Zoo Med PowerSun, can be a good option with Leopard tortoises as they provide both heat and UVB light at the same time.

Accessories

Tortoises like to have vegetation around them, so providing some tortoise-safe plants in their indoor or outdoor enclosures gives them some shelter as well as some natural enrichment.

A humid hide should also be provided. This should be large enough for your tortoise to get into fully. This will give them the option of a humid space if they need it.

A hiding place is also good to have, which your tortoise can use whenever they feel threatened.

If kept indoors, cuttlefish bones can be a useful accessory to provide as they will be a good source of extra calcium for your tortoise. They can also help to maintain a healthy beak.

Feeding

Leopard tortoises are large herbivores and will need to eat a lot of vegetation no matter where you’re housing them.

Outside, a large patch of grass such as alfalfa should be provided for your tortoise to graze on. You should also set up a water bowl, but nothing so large that your tortoise can get trapped in it.

Any plants kept in your yard should be safe for tortoises, in case they decide to have a little nibble while they are roaming around.

A high amount of fiber is vital for Leopard tortoises, with a low amount of protein. No meat should ever be fed to your Leopard tortoise, even as a treat.

Hay and grass should be the staples of your tortoise’s diet, supplemented with some greens such as collard greens, dandelions, kale, some lettuces, and mustard greens.

Some greens, such as spinach or Swiss chard, contain too many oxalates for tortoises. This can result in health problems such as diarrhea and issues with their digestive systems.

Leopard tortoises particularly enjoy thistles, so sowthistles are a good treat to provide. Fruit should be kept to a minimum, and citrus fruits should be avoided. Not all tortoises will like fruit.

Your Leopard tortoise will also need a lot of calcium. With a healthy diet and outside exposure, your tortoise should get enough calcium.

If being housed indoors, you will need to give your Leopard tortoise a calcium and Vitamin D3 supplement.

You should feed your tortoise daily, giving them as much as they can eat within a 15 to 30 minute period. The amount should mirror the size of your tortoise’s shell.

Do Leopard tortoises drink water?

Giant Leopard tortoise drinking water with neck extended
Giant Leopard tortoise drinking water with neck extended

Leopard tortoises will drink frequently from their water bowls. These should be cleaned and refilled every day. Any water receptacle shouldn’t be too big or present a risk of the tortoise getting trapped inside and drowning.

Temperament and handling

Are Leopard tortoises good pets?

Juvenile leopard tortoise being held by man
Juvenile leopard tortoise being held by man

Leopard tortoises can make great pets for experienced keepers. These gentle giants have very docile temperaments and are very rarely aggressive.

They hardly ever burrow or climb and so are much easier to keep track of than other tortoises. These slow, plodding tortoises will graze around the garden for most of the day, which may not be particularly exciting for some keepers.

As for handling, Leopard tortoises don’t usually like being handled directly and may retreat into their carapaces if they feel in danger.

That said, throughout their lives Leopard tortoises can develop fantastic relationships with keepers. They will learn to recognize you and will likely come right over when offered food. This allows for some close interaction with your tortoise.

Leopard tortoises can also be kept in groups. They are rarely territorial towards others of their kind, and males do not generally battle during the breeding season in captivity. If you have space, keeping more than one Leopard tortoise can be a rewarding experience.

However, due to their very specific care needs and their large size, Leopard tortoises wouldn’t make good pets for beginner reptile keepers or someone new to tortoises.

Signs of good health

When selecting a Leopard tortoise or keeping an eye on the health of your own tortoise, look to see if they have clear eyes. A smooth shell with no signs of flaking or pyramiding is also a sure sign of good health.

A Leopard tortoise should have a voracious appetite, and if your tortoise is reluctant to feed or refuses to eat, they could be suffering from health issues.

Health concerns

Like most tortoises, Leopard tortoises can suffer from problems such as Metabolic bone disease if they do not receive enough calcium or Vitamin D3 or if their living conditions are too cold or humid. The latter can result in breathing problems and respiratory infections.

Shell rot is also another potential health problem that can afflict Leopard tortoises. This is usually the result of a fungal infection and is usually accompanied by the flaking of your tortoise’s shell.

Metabolic bone disease is a common affliction among reptiles. This occurs when they don’t get enough calcium or Vitamin D and have insufficient exposure to UV rays. The most common cause is a lack of calcium.

MBD can cause deformities in your tortoise’s shell, and as a result you may see the carapace of your Leopard tortoise pyramiding. This is where the scutes protrude upwards in a very noticeable manner and begin to resemble a pyramid.

An interesting YouTube video about the Leopard tortoise

Leopard tortoise hatchling care

The care for Leopard tortoise hatchlings is quite different from adult specimens. For starters, hatchlings should be kept indoors only. This is to keep them warm and safe from predators. A 20-gallon tank is a great starting size for the enclosure.

Temperatures will be similar, but the hatchlings will certainly need to be kept warm at night. A heater positioned underneath the tank will help keep the temperature at around 85 degrees Fahrenheit at nighttime.

Hatchlings also need a lot more humidity than adults. They will need a humid hide, with a damp substrate of sphagnum moss. The humidity will help promote normal shell growth in your hatchlings. UV needs will be relatively similar to adults.

Hatchlings should also be soaked once a day in warm water. This will give them a place to drink and pass waste. You shouldn’t need to provide a water bowl if you commit to daily soakings. Don’t use a lot of water, barely a quarter of an inch, if that.

As for food, hatchlings can eat a similar diet to adult tortoises as long as the foods are cut up small. Avoid solid or hard food such as vegetables. Food should be tender, mostly greens, and should be provided once a day. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements should also be given.

Frequently Asked Questions about Leopard Tortoises

Do I need a permit for my Leopard tortoise?

You do not need a permit to have a captive-bred Leopard tortoise. However, foreign import of wild Leopard tortoise specimens is forbidden due to the carrying of disease. Captive-bred domestic Leopard tortoises are still legal to own and breed.

Do Leopard tortoises need heat at night?

If temperature conditions in your tortoise’s enclosure drop to below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you should provide some form of heat overnight. You can use products such as a ceramic heater or infrared light heaters to provide heat.

Can Leopard Tortoises eat banana?

Leopard tortoises can eat bananas, but they should only be offered in limited instances. The high potassium levels in bananas can cause problems for your tortoise if ingested too much. The high sugar levels in bananas are also not good for your tortoise in regular amounts.

Can Leopard Tortoises eat cucumber?

Leopard tortoises can eat cucumbers, which can be a very welcome and hydrating treat on hotter days. The crunchiness of cucumbers can help keep your tortoise’s beak healthy.

But cucumbers don’t provide much nutrition for your tortoise, so should strictly be kept as a treat and not a regular diet staple.

Can Leopard Tortoises eat oranges?

Leopard tortoises, like most species of tortoise, should never be given oranges or other citrus fruits. These high-sugar fruits can cause a lot of health issues for tortoises.

The most widespread problems are diarrhea and vomiting. Citrus fruits contain a lot of acid as well as sugars that can upset the digestive system of tortoises.

How fast is the Leopard tortoise?

Leopard tortoises are slow, ponderous reptiles. At full pelt, they will not go much faster than one kilometer per hour. For comparison, their big cat namesake can reach almost 60 kilometers an hour.

How long does it take for a Leopard tortoise to grow?

Leopard tortoises can grow between two and four inches per year on average, given a healthy diet and correct living conditions. These large tortoises reach sexual maturity in their mid-teens. They may live for as long as 100 years.

After they become juveniles at around five years old, Leopard tortoises may experience a faster rate of growth. The exact rate of growth will usually depend on the individual.

What makes Leopard tortoises so difficult to hatch?

When it comes to hatching eggs, Leopard tortoises like to take their time. When eggs are laid, it can take over a year for the hatchlings to emerge.

They also require optimal conditions to make each clutch successful. Adverse weather conditions and high amounts of rainfall can doom a clutch of eggs.

As the eggs are usually laid in a burrow, the ground quality can also make things difficult. Embryos might not even develop until the ideal conditions are present.

Conclusion

For experienced keepers, Leopard tortoises can be an incredibly rewarding species to keep. These gentle giants need a lot of room, but over time their docile nature can help create a wonderful bond between you and your tortoise.

But for beginners, the sheer space required by Leopard tortoises as well as their specific temperature requirements can make them too much to handle. Leopard tortoises are also not ideal if you have other pets such as dogs or cats.

Leopard tortoises also have long lifespans, which should be taken into account. But if you’re prepared, these tortoises can be great life-long companions.

If you liked this care guide or if you’re considering buying a Leopard tortoise, don’t hesitate to comment down below!

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