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Leopard Tortoise

Leopard Tortoise

The leopard tortoise is the second largest tortoise native to Africa, with the African spurred tortoise being the only one larger than it. Two sub-species are commonly recognized: Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki and Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis. Babcocki is the most common species in the pet trade. It has a large natural range resulting in many geographic variations in size, shell coloring and temperature tolerance. Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis is from South Africa and Namibia, and other parts of southern Africa. It can be distinguished from S. p. babcocki as it is generally darker in color, may not be as high domed and generally grows larger.


As grazers, leopard tortoises eat a bunch of leafy greens and grasses, typical for tortoises. The diet should be at minimum 70% grasses and hay. They require a high-fiber diet rich in calcium, which may require adding calcium powder to their food. In addition to grazing the captive diet may be supplemented a couple times a week with collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and flowers, hibiscus leaves and flowers, grape leaves, escarole, mulberry tree leaves, spineless cactus pads, carrots, zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkin, mushrooms, sweet potato, yellow squash, and bell peppers.

Tortoise food diets may also be included but should only be fed in conjunction with fresh leafy greens for optimal health.

A tiny portion of the leopard tortoise’s diet may include fruits, such as tomatoes, apples, papayas, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, mangos and bananas. Fruit should be no more than about 5 percent of the overall diet.

Although some tortoise keepers supplement the diet with extra vitamins and vitamin D3, I do not think these are required if your leopard tortoise is provided a fresh diet and exposed to natural or UVB light. Hatchlings should be fed daily and may benefit from food that is lightly sprinkled with calcium powder several times a week.

Summary Information

Adult Size: Captive size 15-20 inches. Females are larger.

Captive Lifespan: 50-100 years in wild.

Nighttime Air Temperature:  55°-65°F (never below 50*F)

Daytime Air Temperature: 75-90°F

Sun Basking Temperature:  95-100°F

Humidity:  10-40%

Original Habitat

The Leopard Tortoise is a large grazing species that favors semi-arid (not dry), thorny to grassland habitats, originating from southern Africa. However, it is also seen in some regions featuring a higher level of precipitation, or at higher altitudes before it starts getting too cold. Leopard tortoises are named after Leopards (which their shells resemble) for their unique pattern. They have a very attractive shell pattern, with the pattern acting like camouflage in its natural environment. It is found throughout the savannahs of Africa from Sudan to the southern Cape. Since it is a “tropical” tortoise, Leopard tortoises do not hibernate but may burrow when they want to blend in a take a break.

Recommended Pet Enclosure

If possible, a safe and secure outdoor habitat with plenty of sun is preferred, and it should be planted with a variety of edible weeds, wildflowers, and a little bermuda grass.  A southern exposure for basking, and bushes and rocks for hiding would make your tortoise very happy.  If an indoor habitat is used, it should mimic an outdoor one as much as possible.

For a hatchling’s indoor enclosure, a large plastic-bin container filled with a mixture of organic soil, orchid bark, and play sand makes a nice habitat.  Form some hills in the dirt, put in a few rocks, and place a seed tray in one corner to grow some sedum, weeds, and wildflowers. Incorporating hills is recommended to help teach your hatchling to climb and use it’s newborn muscles, simulating the wild. You can also accommodate an adult in a similar, but larger, plastic bin container.  Indoor enclosures need to have UVB light from a bulb, such as a Reptisun 5.0. You will also need a heat lamp for a basking area and a hide box for some privacy.  Mercury-vapor lamps, which supply heat and UVB, are good as long as the enclosure offers a warm end and a cooler end. Adults and even babies should be outdoors, but the enclosure needs to be safe from predators, including birds.  For an adult, about 6’x4′ should be enough, but the bigger the better.

By feeding your tortoise a fresh salad of vegetables and other ingredients (see above section) it will help prevent your tortoise from eating its enclosure’s live plants. Leopard tortoises readily drink standing water. A shallow water dish may be provided, but check it daily, and clean it as required. The size of the water dish doesn’t really matter, however it shouldn’t be too deep where the tortoise could get stuck in the dish. Hatchlings may be soaked once or twice a week in shallow, warm water. They drink and often defecate in the water while being soaked.


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