FOCUS ON THE LEOPARD TORTOISE

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.

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!

THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns is possibly among the most popular means of introducing young people to classical music and to the different instruments that make up an orchestra. The other is that wonderful symphonic fairy-tale for children, Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. At the end of May this year, the Grahamstown Music Society devoted the first half of their concert to a transcription by Werner Thomas-Mifune for cello and piano of The Carnival of the Animals. Parents were invited to bring their children and “nobody will take offence if they leave at interval!”

I cannot show you all of the animals, but will introduce you to a few – with a South African twist.

The Royal March of the Lion

Instead of hens and roosters you can see a Red-necked Spurfowl

Donkeys will stand in for the Wild Asses

Tortoises abound

I will have to skip the kangaroos and the aquarium, but a Zebra will step in for the Characters with Long Ears

Skip the cuckoo for now and come to an aviary

Of pianists I have no pictures, so perhaps some Bagpipers will do

The fossils will be represented by a skeleton

Alas, I have no swan so will show you a Yellow-billed Stork instead!