Bryan, the Angulate Tortoise, has lived in our garden for over four years now. We leave him to his own devices as there is plenty of food and water for him to help himself, and enjoy our irregular sightings of him wandering around the garden. “As slow as a tortoise” doesn’t apply to him for he can actually dart across the lawn at considerable speed! He generally hides in the shade of the rosemary bush, a daisy bush, or in the shrubbery during the heat of the day and scurries out to get water or to eat before disappearing again, leaving only the sound of rustling dry leaves in his wake.
Over the years he has traversed not only our garden – managing to avoid falling into our swimming pool – but that of our neighbours too. He makes himself at home in either the one garden or the other and determinedly returns to whichever one he feels most comfortable in at the time – even when picked up and returned to where it is thought he ought to be. So it is that we never worry when we haven’t seen him for some time, knowing that he is probably either under cover or visiting the neighbours.
That is until the other day when he ventured further than ever before: our neighbour happened to arrive home as Bryan was about to disappear into the verge over the road! Somehow he had got out of the gate and allowed his curiosity to take him to pastures new. He was unceremoniously picked up and brought ‘home’ – where we have spotted him on a couple of occasions since.
Now Bryan is a creature of the wild, rather than a house pet. Regular readers might remember he was rescued from a person who wished to eat him. Of course he is free to go and the time is bound to come when he will simply disappear. Nonetheless, I am relieved that this particular adventure was interrupted for the road he was heading for carries a lot of fast traffic and he wouldn’t stand much of a chance of crossing it.
Bryan, the angulate tortoise, that has made our garden his home for a number of years, has emerged from his winter hiding place to strut about the garden once more.
We have seen him eating grass and other plants in the garden, nibbling with intent before walking surprisingly fast to seek shelter from the sun. We cannot always find him for he hides so well, but it is comforting to know that he has survived the cold weather and has continued to grow.
With flowers blooming in such abundance, which omnivorous, grazing or browsing animal can resist such a feast? Certainly not this enormous Leopard Tortoise!
This Red Hartebeest was tucking in too:
So was this elephant:
As were these zebra:
These photographs were all taken in the Addo Elephant National Park.
The Leopard Tortoise is also called a Mountain Tortoise in direct translation of its Afrikaans name, Bergskilpad. According to the SANBI, the genus name Stigmochelys is a combination of the Greek words stigma meaning ‘marked’ and chelone meaning ‘tortoise’. The specific epithet pardalis is derived from the Greek word pardos meaning ‘spotted’ after the spotted shell.
These are the largest tortoises in South Africa and are always a joy to see in the wild. The Addo Elephant National Park is an excellent place to come across them – a visit there hardly seems complete without seeing at least one Leopard Tortoise. We have been fortunate to see several on our recent visits.
A light sprinkling of rain, gives this Leopard Tortoise a newly washed look as it crossed the tar road. Because of the absence of a nucal shield, these are the only tortoises able to raise their heads – and the only ones that can swim!
Here a Leopard Tortoise was making the most of the new green shoots of grass to emerge after the recent rain in the Addo Elephant National Park.
While they are mostly herbivorous, Leopard Tortoises have also been known to gnaw bones, and to eat carnivore faeces to obtain calcium for shell growth and the development of eggshells. This one appears to have damaged its horny beak, giving it a gap-toothed look – although they are actually toothless.
Even though they derive some liquid from their diet, Leopard Tortoises drink water readily when it is available. This one was making for the waterhole at Carol’s Rest at considerable speed!
I was driving out of town yesterday when an Angulate Tortoise walking next to the road caught my eye.
It felt akin to seeing another dog that mimics the look of your own pet in a place where this is impossible. Of course, I am referring to Bryan – the Angulate Tortoise that has made our garden his home for the past couple of years. I saw him the other day, chomping at the weeds on our lawn – he is looking healthy and is clearly growing, so we should measure and weigh him before summer ends.
This one has an undamaged carapace and was walking surprisingly quickly to get out of the sun beating overhead.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Sammy, a relatively young Leopard Tortoise, was brought to us after being found on a local junior school campus. He has already had quite a tough life as one can tell from the damage to the skirt of his carapace – doubtless stemming from the curiosity of dogs.
He was brought to our garden on a very chilly afternoon, carefully conveyed in a beer box.
The shell pattern is very attractive – both on top and underneath.
Once Sammy had undergone the ignominy of being photographed from all angles, he found refuge under the Spekboom growing near the swimming pool.
It was a day or so later that we spotted him exploring the tangle of Plumbago before he disappeared for a while. Once the bout of cold weather gave way to warm sunshine, however, Sammy was on the move again and was last seen tucking himself away under the Van Stadens Daisies on the edge of the lawn. This is good news for Leopard Tortoises mostly eat grass – of which we have a variety in the garden. Sammy has the freedom to go wherever he pleases. I wonder when, and if, he will meet Bryan (the Angulate Tortoise) during his wanderings.