Not to be outdone by the Cape buffalo, leopard tortoises were also out in force during our recent visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. These tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) are often called mountain tortoises from directly translating the Afrikaans name for them, bergskilpad. They grow to be the largest tortoises in South Africa, which makes the mature ones easy to spot in the veld – if they are around.

The first one we saw was in the vicinity of the Lismore Waterhole, seemingly unperturbed by the presence of so many elephants. Although we watched it closely for some time, marvelling at its size, the wise look in its eyes and the good condition of its carapace, it was only once I was studying its image on my computer that I noticed the tick on it!

leopard tortoise

Apparently it is not uncommon to find tortoises in the wild that are infested with ticks in the soft skin of their necks and upper limbs. Notice its well-developed back legs and the pigeon-toed front legs. The row of small nails helps the tortoise to manoeuvre over rocks and to walk at speed. You would be surprised to see how quickly these tortoises can move through the veld!

Another lone tortoise appeared near the road on our way to the Hapoor Waterhole.

leopard tortoise

This is not unusual for they tend to be loners except for during the mating season. That is when the males follow females for some distance and then butt them into submission. We couldn’t help wondering if this is what was happening near Ghwarrie. We watched these two pushing each other for about ten minutes – and they had been at it before we arrived. It could equally have been an example of competitor ramming, especially as these ones were head-to-head.

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

By the end of our trip we had lost count of the number of leopard tortoises we had seen – some striding ahead purposefully, others munching grass contentedly, and yet others ambling across the road with the confidence of knowing that they have right of way.

We spotted one angulate tortoise and it was not waiting around for any touristy shots. Instead, it was walking as fast as its legs could carry it across the road to where it could hide in the dry grass.

angulate tortoise

12 thoughts on “TORTOISES AT ADDO

  1. Hi Anne – it seems our recent visit to Addo (all the way from KZN) coincided with your recent visit! On our trip we saw three tortoises crossing the road in the Baviannskloof. The largest tortoise was shoving the other large one across the road. There seemed to be an element of desperation in its efforts. We stopped to watch anxious about them being in the road. We then noticed that the one being shoved had fencing wire wound around one foreleg and around its neck and the wire was impeding its ability to walk. We wondered if the shoving was partly to assist it to cross the road to safety? The third tortoise (much smaller) was shoved away by the largest tortoise and crossed the road on its own. My husband moved the two larger ones to the side of the road and patiently waited in the hopes the one with the wire would extend its legs and head so he could try to remove the wire. In the meantime the one that had been shoving it came close to and almost nestled against the one with the wire, constantly watching us with alert and wise-looking eyes as we spoke gently to try to indicate we were not a threat. Happily, the one with the wire eventually extended its legs and head from its shell, and with the help of wire cutters, my husband was able to gently remove all the wire. We got back in our vehicle and waited until the two of them started moving off into the scrub on the side of the road. Because of the chicken-wire fences bordering the road for kilometres on both sides, they were confined to the road corridor. It seems it is tough being a tortoise in the agricultural lands.


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