Leopard Tortoises are among the most beautiful pet tortoises!

Leopard Tortoises are beautiful black and yellow tortoises with intricate spotted patterns on their shells. They are very shy when small, but will become more and more outgoing as they get used to their keeper’s activities. Captive-hatched specimens are quite hardy as long as their husbandry requirements are met.

Scientific Classification

Species: pardalis


   Leopard Tortoises are found in hot, dry scrubland areas in southern Africa. They live in the underbrush, seeking refuge from the heat under brushy plants and other shady areas. They browse on grass and plant growth.


  This tortoise is not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species but is listed on CITES: Appendix II.

Leopard tortoise
Image Credit: EcoPrint, Shutterstock


   One of the most beautiful of the pet tortoises, the shell of the Leopard Tortoise is black and yellow with intricate spotted patterns. They can grow quite large with many adults reaching 14″ to 16″ (35 – 40 cm). Large females can even reach 18″ to 20″ (46 – 51 cm) and 40 to 60 pounds, but captive specimens this large are rare.

Care and Feeding

   Leopard Tortoises should be fed a diet that is very high in fiber. They will feed eagerly on a mixed salad of greens and vegetables each day, but you should try to offer as much grass, hay, dandelions, leaves, and Opuntia cactus pads as possible. A sprinkle of calcium should be offered on the salad every few times.

For optimal health, they should be fed fruits only sparingly or not at all. You can offer some melon, apple, and other fruits during the hot summers, but only once every ten days to two weeks. Leopard Tortoises should not be fed any dog food or cat food and commercial foods only very seldom as they are prone to renal problems and medical issues related to high protein diets.

Water should be offered in a flat saucer. This can be a flat dish or a plastic saucer which is normally placed under a plant pot. These can be easily cleaned and sterilized once a week or as needed.


   Leopard Tortoises require warm, dry environments and so if you live in a humid area be very careful about keeping Leopard Tortoises outdoors. Living on the damp ground will cause them serious medical problems. Due to their large size, a pair of adult Leopard Tortoises will require an enclosure that is at least 4′ wide x 6′ long.

The substrate can be a mixture of ¾ sand and ¼ peat moss. A layer of grass hay can be added at one end to provide some shelter. The substrate should be kept dry as Leopard Tortoises are very sensitive to damp conditions.

Heat should be provided using a heat-emitting bulb in a lamp from overhead. Ideally, this heat lamp should hang just about 12″ above the substrate. The heat-emitting bulb should provide a basking spot of 90 to 95 F (32 to 35 C) at one end of the enclosure. This will provide a hot end for the tortoise to enjoy.

For lighting, place a shop light fixture overhead that is fitted with one or two UV-emitting bulbs. These can be found at your pet store or on-line from a variety of sources. UVB-heat bulbs® from T-Rex products and Reptisun® bulbs from Zoomed will also provide UV radiation to the enclosure. This UVB is necessary for Vitamin D3 production (needed for calcium absorption, proper muscle functioning, etc.).

Leopard Tortoises are shy and so be sure to provide a variety of shelters to give the them a feeling of security. Add large pieces of curved cork bark, large banana leaves, piles of straw or hay, etc. for the tortoises to use as shelter. The shelter should be located at the cooler end of the enclosure and not directly under the heat-emitting lamps.


The most common form of indoor accommodation for small or medium sized Leopard Tortoises is a large terrarium. Keepers can use plastic tubs, wooden cages, and other enclosures, but glass terrariums are easy to find at the local pet store and they come in a variety of sizes. Of course, as the tortoise grows, it will need larger and larger enclosures.


All tortoises benefit from being kept outdoors for all or part of their lives. They receive doses of UVB radiation, environmental heat, and of course enjoy a connection to the grass, plants, and soil found in outdoor pens. Outdoor enclosures should offer shelter from heat, a secure place to rest, and a water source. Food can be offered to tortoises and can be supplemented by plantings of some of their favorite grasses, fruits, and vegetables within the enclosure. A keeper must be very diligent to make sure that outdoor enclosures are escape-proof and predator-proof.

leopard tortoise eating
Image Credit: PeterVrabel, Shutterstock


   Leopard Tortoises are shy, so provide a variety of shelters to give these tortoises a feeling of security. As a shy species, most Leopard Tortoises will not enjoy being handled. They will often retreat into their shells and stay tightly wedged in with their large, scaly legs covering their heads. Of course, there are always exceptions and occasionally very outgoing, almost tame, Leopard Tortoises are seen. These are usually specimens that have been raised from small, captive-hatched babies and which are open to daily interaction over many years.


   An established pair of Leopard Tortoises can be very prolific and in warm areas can produce year-round. A light winter cooling, followed by hot days triggers breeding in Leopard Tortoises. Sometimes pairs take several years to “bond” and until this occurs, females will often refuse the male’s attempts to mate. A healthy, active pair can produce two clutches of 10 to 20 eggs each season.

It is felt by most keepers that the addition of protein and calcium to a female Leopard Tortoise’s diet is essential in having them produce clutches of healthy, viable eggs. Eggs hatch in as many as 150 days when incubated in the 82{deg} to 86{deg} F range of temperatures.

Ailments / Health Problems

   Leopard Tortoises are found in hot, dry habitats. Thus, their captive enclosures should reflect this need. When kept cool or damp for an extended period of time, you can expect a Leopard Tortoise to begin showing respiratory problems. The early signs are puffy eyes, runny noses, etc. You should strive to maintain an enclosure that is hot and dry to avoid these health issues.

Leopard Tortoises are really only available as captive-hatched babies these days, so you should not be concerned about internal parasites unless a baby has been kept in the enclosure with wild-caught adults or wild-caught tortoises of another species.

Long-term lack of appetite, runny or smelly stools, and blood in the feces are signs of a problem and you should visit a qualified veterinarian if any of these signs are noticed.

Leopard tortoise
Image Credit: Alta Oosthuizen, Shutterstock


   Leopard Tortoises are readily available from better reptile stores, on-line, or at reptile shows and expos.

Try to purchase your tortoise from a breeder or someone with intimate knowledge of tortoises. They will help you set up the proper enclosure and will give you helpful hints so you are successful. Also, if you don’t have to ship your tortoise, that is always best. A beginning keeper should purchase a tortoise that is at least three months old to make sure it is past the delicate stage.

Featured Image Credit: Marieke Peche, Shutterstock