BRYAN HAS WOKEN UP

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.

FLOWERS ON THE MENU

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.

LEOPARD TORTOISES IN ADDO

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!

ANGULATE TORTOISE

I was driving out of town yesterday when an Angulate Tortoise walking next to the road caught my eye.

angulate tortoise

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.

angulate tortoise

TORTOISES AT ADDO

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