An Old Friend: The African Spurred Tortoise

We Meet Again

If you happened to see my most recent post about the three-banded armadillo, you would know that I recently attended a local event that had a New Hampshire based organization called Wildlife Encounters present. This organization provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. This program actually came to the University of New England during finals week and I had the chance to bond with an african spurred tortoise, also known as a sulcata tortoise, named Rex. I once again came across Rex at this particular event, clearly having a good time munching on some grass, so I decided to ask the wildlife educators some questions so I could tell everyone here about the african spurred tortoise!

Basic Information on the African Spurred Tortoise

Known as the largest species of tortoise in the African mainland, it is only outsized by the species of island dweller tortoises in the Aldabra and the Galapagos. The african spurred tortoise can easily reach one hundred pounds and is an average of thirty inches in length. A tortoise differs from a turtle in that they are generally land-dwellers, whereas turtles are more aquatic creatures. There are other small differences between the two species, such as tortoises having differently shaped feet that are better for digging rather than swimming. Both turtles and tortoises are classified as reptiles.

The african spurred tortoise, named for the spikes on their hind legs, inhabit the southern edge of the Sahara desert, making them well adapted to the extreme heat. Because temperatures in the Sahara can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, these tortoises are known for digging dens up to ten feet deep in the sand to escape the heat of the day. They warm themselves in the sun during the morning hours to raise their body temperature from the night before when it is cooler. Their diet consists of grasses, leaves, flowers, and even cacti. The african spurred tortoise is most active during the rain season which spans from July to October and breeding season takes place between June and the following March. The average lifespan can range from eighty to one-hundred years!


The african spurred tortoise is listed as vulnerable with habitat loss being one of the major reasons. Populations have declined due to the urbanization and overgrazing by domestic livestock. The species is also eaten by native tribes and also used to make certain medicinal potions in Japan. Because they don’t reach sexual maturity until fifteen years of age, they have a hard time keeping up with reproducing enough offspring to survive, which means they could face extinction in the near future. Another big reason the african spurred tortoise is at risk is due to the fact that they are commonly captured and sold as pets in Europe and North America. Commonly bought as babies, the species quickly gets too large to manage and the pet owner is often found not being able to care for the tortoise anymore. This is what happened to Rex before he was rescued by Wildlife Encounters.

What can you do?

Simple conservation efforts to prevent habitat loss are important. However, one of the most important things we can do is to take a stand against the pet industry and say no more to the capture and trade of the african spurred tortoise! Educating breeders, pet stores, and owners about the risk such as, endangerment, their large size, and the long lifespan will help cut down on the demand for these guys as pets and therefore help to conserve the species.


**A special thanks to Wildlife Encounters, their staff member Jenica, and of course Rex!**





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