South Africa has 14 species of tortoise, which is the richest diversity of tortoises in the world.
In Gauteng the most common tortoise is the Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis).
We have lived on our smallholding for thirty years and have never seen a tortoise in our fields, so imagine our surprise when we found a Leopard Tortoise recently.
We have no idea where it came from, but our great concern was that it was time for us to cut the grass in our pastures and we wanted to make sure that he was not in the way of the tractor or slasher.
So we put him in a disused chicken enclosure, where he would be safe from dogs and would not be able to amble across a road. His temporary name was Bolt. (Leopard tortoises are notoriously difficult to identify by gender, so we just referred to this one as male.)
Bolt in his enclosure.
But what were we to do with our find? The Leopard Tortoise is protected in terms of the Gauteng Nature Conservation Ordinance and may not be kept without a permit.
Although it is illegal to remove them from the wild, they are sometimes seen for sale on the side of a road. Nature conservationists appeal to the public not to “rescue” these tortoises by buying them ~ even though they are being kept in appalling conditions ~ as this is fuelling the illegal trade. We should rather report the incident to nature conservation authorities, phone (011) 240-2500 or (012) 316-1638 and ask to speak to a biodiversity inspector.
The Leopard Tortoise is a large and attractively marked tortoise, with a wide distribution in southern Africa. They may grow to 60 cm long and weigh over 35 kg. They graze on mixed grasses. Water needs to be provided in a shallow container to prevent drowning but should also be deep enough to accommodate bathing in hot weather.
A tortoise is a wild animal and we feel it should not be kept as a pet, even though they are commonly maintained in captive collections both within South Africa and abroad.
So we contacted the Rietvlei Nature Reserve near Pretoria and they said that we could bring him there, which is what we did. The people were very friendly and said that they quite often get given Leopard Tortoises.
We will miss him, but know that he is now back where he belongs ~ in the wild.