There was something odd about the gait of this Leopard Tortoise crossing the dirt road ahead of us. At first I thought it must have hurt its hind leg for it appeared to be dragging it slightly. Closer inspection shows that a couple of its marginal scutes have broken off.
The gap thus created means that as the tortoise walks, its hind leg catches on the sharp section on the left.
I couldn’t quite capture the catching action on camera, although this photograph gives a good idea. During the walking motion the leg stretches back, then gets caught on the way in.
Apart from slowing it down a little, the tortoise does not appear to be adversely affected. I could detect no sign of damage to the leg and so watched over it until it had safely reached the edge of the road, where it was safe from passing traffic in the dimming afternoon light.
The temperature has been uncomfortably hot all week and today is no exception. There is still no sign of rain either. Despite the heat and the aridity of the air, the walls and floors of our home – both indoors and out – host a skittering of geckos of all sizes.
Although these large tortoises are often called Mountain Tortoises (probably as a direct translation of the Afrikaans name, Bergskilpad), it is also called a Leopard Tortoise – which is not surprising when you note its spotted shell. The pardalis part of its scientific name, Stigmochelys pardalis, refers specifically to its spotted shell.
Just for fun, here is a photograph of a leopard.
Leopard tortoises are the largest species of tortoise that occur in southern Africa. They are also the only tortoise that can raise its head or swim as they do not have a nucal shield above the neck. Their heads are moderately large with a hooked upper jaw. As they are toothless, they use their horny beak to sheer through the grass and other plants that they eat.
The high-domed shell provides protection from the heat of the sun. Note its tongue sticking out.
Their rear legs are well developed while the almost paddle-shaped and pigeon-toed front legs with a row of small nails is used to move very fast and easily manoeuvre over rocky terrain – which may also have given rise to its alternate name of Mountain Tortoise.
During the breeding season, males are combative, including actions such as ramming their opposition, butting and occasionally even overturning one another. This victorious one has found his female.
Regular readers do not get excited for it hasn’t rained enough here to soak the ground, let alone form rivulets and mud. Yet, the thickest, darkest, stickiest mud I have seen for a long time was evident at the Ghwarrie waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – where it hasn’t rained much either. Look at this family of elephants churning up the mud on the edge of the waterhole as they move forward to get to the clear water to drink.
One of them clearly desired a mud bath and spent some time squirting this thick, sloshy black mud over itself.
The results of this mud flinging can clearly be seen as they turn to move away from the water.
Some of the elephants looked as though they were wearing dark boots as they made their way along the edge of the waterhole to seek food further afield. Then I looked down at a strange dark object nearby.
On closer inspection I realised it was a terrapin!
This one had obviously decided not to burrow into the mud.