STATUS IN THE WILD: Vulnerable
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
The African spurred tortoise, also known as Sulcata tortoise, is the largest tortoise of the African mainland and the third largest tortoise overall. This desert-dwelling tortoise is well camouflaged by its overall sandy coloration, having thick golden to yellow-brown skin and a brownish carapace (shell). The African spurred tortoise has a broad oval carapace which displays prominent serrations at the front and back margins and conspicuous growth rings on each. Large, overlapping scales cover the front surface of the forelimbs, while the hind surface of the thigh bears two or three large conical spurs, from which the species earns its name.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
The African spurred tortoise is most active during the rainy season (July to October), primarily at dawn and dusk when this tortoise forages for succulent plants and annual grasses. Like many species, the African spurred tortoise often spends the early morning basking in the sun to raise its body temperature after the night chill. During the dry season, adults often lay dormant in their cool, moist burrows to prevent dehydration.
Copulation takes place right after the rainy season, during the months from September through November. Males combat each other for breeding rights with the females and are vocal during copulation. After mating, the female begins to roam looking for suitable nesting sites. Four or five nests may be excavated before she selects the perfect location in which the 15 to 30 eggs will be laid.
The work of digging the nest may take up to five hours. The speed with which it is dug seems to be dependent upon the relative hardness of the ground. Once the nest is dug, the female begins to lay an egg every three minutes. After the eggs are laid, the female fills in the nest and makes sure to fully cover all the eggs. For approximately eight months, the eggs will incubate before hatchlings emerge.
The African spurred tortoise is found along the southern edge of the Sahara, from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east.
The African spurred tortoise lives in hot, arid regions ranging from desert fringes to dry savannahs usually where permanent water supplies are lacking.
These tortoises primarily eat many types of grasses and plants that are high in fiber and low in protein. Flowers and other plants including cacti are also consumed.