Leopard Tortoises / Geochelone pardalis

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The leopard tortoise is a large and colourful tortoise from South Africa.
While it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful tortoises available, it is also, in my opinion, far too widely and easily available to the public as an easy to keep pet.
Yes, if its needs, eventual size and cost to keep over the winter are fully understood before purchase then it can be an interesting and relatively easy to care for tortoise.
What most pet shops do not tell you about is the size and heating requirements it will eventually need. The sight of the striking carapaces of the tiny babies available in pet shops do not show the true picture unfortunately. Leos are often put up for rehoming when people either realise their mistake or have financial problems.
So, if you have not been put off, please read on.
Leopard tortoises can grow to around 2 feet in length but more often than not, attain a size of around 16 inches in captivity. They will produce as much faeces as a large dog or small pony and believe me, this is not what most people like to find in their house.
They are a grassland species and so need a high fibre diet rich in a variety of grasses and hay to give a correct diet for their requirements. This needs to be fed from hatching to get the little tortoises used to correct diet and avoid the pitfall of getting them onto an incorrect diet and then finding it extremely difficult to reverse. In the summer months this is easiest obtained by giving the tortoises free access to a lawned area planted with a variety of grasses. Most leopars will happily graze on growing feeds rather than eat what you have hand picked. This practice also prevents overgrown beaks and helps build up good muscle tone. They will need a water area which can be quite deep as leopards are happy in deep water and are in fact good swimmers. Mine had a small pond type drinking area which could easily be flushed using a hosepipe and refilled. Make sure that it is easy for the tortoises to access and exit the area by placing stones on the outside for gripping when walking.
Their hide area needs to be heated 365 days of the year, which can prove expensive, but with good insulation, can be achieved. As there will no doubt be long periods of unsuitable weather, this really needs to be a bigger area than the normal summer type overnight hide. Please do not try to make shortcuts, this can be extremely stressful for what is quite a demanding and sometimes delicate species.
Leopard tortoises are not the brightest of animals when it comes to returning to a warm area and often they just make for the nearest bush or shrub. It's not their fault that they are outside of their natural range and as European nights can be extremely cold and damp, we must be vigilant in making sure that they are returned to their night time heated hide. Leopard tortoises almost always seemingly forgett where the cosy heated area is is situated. It is therefore imperative that there is someone around to make sure they have returned to their hides in bad weather or overnight.
As my leos obtained most of their food from natural grazing I provided added calcium in the form of cuttlefish scattered around and limestone blocks in their enclosure. Any supplemented food is sprinkled with nutrobal for growing tortoises and vionate for adults.


Heating in the hide areas is supplied via tubular heaters on a thermostat for background heating and overhead mercury vapour lamps for basking spots and uvb. A suitable background heater can be found here http://www.alertelectrical.com/Electric-Heating-Fixed/Multi-Purpose-Heaters/135w-3ft-Tubular-Heater-cw-1mtr-Cable-ST3.asp These are relatively inexpensive to run and if plugged into a thermostat will only kick in when really needed, so not adding too much to your carbon footprint. Insulation of thte actual shed area is vital if heating costs are to be kept to a minimum.