How to Care for a Leopard Tortoise

The Leopard Tortoise, officially known as African Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone Pardalis) can grow to about 2 feet (0.6 m) long and can weigh up to 70 lbs with proper care (and good genes). They make wonderful pets and may live up to 80 years if kept healthy throughout their lives. Available for around $200, it's important to keep your tortoise healthy to ensure a long and happy life.


  1. 1
    Buy a healthy tortoise - if you know of a reliable, reputable pet store that specializes in reptiles, they may have one for you. Better yet, contact a tortoise breeder and get one directly from them. You can also get one at a reptile expo. In either case, examine your new pet carefully before buying it. Make sure that its eyes are clean and glossy (not cloudy or filmy) and that its fecal droppings are not too runny. Do not pick one up from the road.
  2. 2
    Create a natural habitat - the Leopard tortoise is found natively throughout south and east Africa. They are typically found in areas with dry or semiarid climates. They prefer areas with lots of grass. You should try to emulate this sort of habitat for your 'captive' tortoise.
    • By captive this means non-wild, not necessarily in a cage and never captured from the wild - see "Warnings" below.
  3. 3
    Create an outdoor captive habitat - if you live in a warm, dry climate similar to that described above, you are poised to emulate the tortoise's natural habitat by building an outdoor pen for your new pet. (That’s a subject for a separate article)
  4. 4
    Create an indoor captive habitat - avoid the use of an aquarium since they do not offer enough horizontal space for your tortoise to roam about in. Start with a nice size pen or terrarium, at least 2'x2' with smooth, 12' (min.) vertical walls so that your tortoise will not try to escape and accidentally flip over. Cover the bottom of the pen with clean paper (newsprint is cheapest) and then put down a layer of substrate using a combination of the following - barks, soft sand, dry grass. You may also want to add some rocks for your tortoise to bask on. You should definitely include some sort of hollow log or other cave-like covering for your tortoise to retreat to when he's feeling overwhelmed by the world. Most importantly, supply your tortoise pen with proper heat and lighting. (that is covered below in another step)
  5. 5
    Provide suitable food - the leopard tortoise feeds primarily on grasses in the wild. For captive kept tortoises, a mixture of grasses. Leaves and straw are best. Many have had good results with timothy orchard grass. Some have also found that a nice mixture of spring greens will work well. Be careful with vegetables though - too much wet food can cause digestive problems and will lead to excessively soft, smelly fecal matter. It's good to cultivate weeds and wild plants in your yard that are palatable to your tortoise such as: clovers, dandelions, wild grass...etc.
  6. 6
    Select appropriate heat and light - your tortoise will need two main sources of light for daylight and heat. For the daylight, you should buy a UVB lamp (100 watt) to emulate the full spectrum of the sun's light. Also, provide natural light for your guy whenever possible. For the nights, use a 60 watt red heat lamp to keep the cage warm. It is good to put the lights on timers so that they will turn on and off automatically and keep the cage at a fairly constant temperature. The temperature should average around 100 °F (38 °C). it should never be much cooler than 70 (F) or hotter than 100 (F). Use a small disk thermometer to monitor the heat at all times. Adjust the timing and wattage of the lights as needed.
  7. 7
    Provide appropriate supplements - a supplement that can be fed to the tortoise is the Mazuri tortoise food. The Mazuri tortoise pellet was developed for Galapagos tortoises but may tortoise owners have found that it works well with many other tortoises. Due to their rate of growth, their demand for calcium and mineral trace elements is high. A calcium-D3 supplement should be provided daily to juveniles and also for adults less frequently.
  8. 8
    Enable socialization - tortoises are mostly solitary animals in the wild, but they are not opposed to a little attention once in a while, especially when they get older. When your tortoise is still a baby, begin socializing him by gently picking him up and holding him in the palm of your hand. Do not tap on its shell or yell at it to come out, as this will frighten and stress your tortoise. Instead, let it take cover inside its shell until it is ready to come out of its own accord. As your tortoise grows up and realizes you are its food and care provider, it will be comfortable enough to eat right out of your hand, it may even let you pet it sometimes.

Community Q&A

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  • Question
    Our leopard tortoise has not passed any fecal matter in weeks, and it keeps eating as usual. Is this normal?
    Top Answerer
    It may have constipation; try giving it a soak. If the problem persists, then go to a vet.
  • Question
    What will happen if a tortoise sleeps too much?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    This is mostly normal, but the reason is usually a lack of heat in the tank. If it is 70 degrees or less then they are pretty much hibernating because it is so cold.
  • Question
    How much should I feed the tortoise?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Feed a baby tortoise at most twice a day, adults can last longer without food so you could feed them at least 3-4 times a week or once a day. Make sure the diet is healthy and contains plenty of vitamin D3.
  • Question
    Should leopard tortoises be given a bath, and if so, how often?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes. Once or twice a week by soaking them, and then they can drink and poop. If they walk through the poop, then just give them a quick rinse from the faucet.
  • Question
    At what age can leopard tortoises lay eggs?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Readiness to lay eggs mainly depends on size, actually, rather than age. Four or 5 kgs is the average.
  • Question
    What happens if no calcium is given to a tortoise?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Tortoises can die from a calcium deficiency.
  • Question
    What does a softening shell on a baby turtle indicate?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    The shell will get harder over time, so the best thing is to leave it. If the shell continues to soften, take it to the vet.
  • Question
    How do I treat dry skin on a leopard tortoise?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    I have had great success using "Natural Dog Company's" Snout Soother for dry skin. I used it on my dog, and then my own lips, so I thought, "why not?" and tried it on my tortoise with amazing results. I only have to apply it twice a year, I avoid the eyes and nostrils but everything else is fair game, and he is a healthy, happy leopard.
  • Question
    Is there something wrong with the tortoise if it does not like to stretch his head?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    He might just be shy! Just in case, you may want to see the vet to ensure your tortoise is in good shape.
  • Question
    How do I get rid of ticks on turtle?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You can take him to a vet and have them complete this process for you.
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    • A leopard tortoise is strictly an herbivore, that means it should not be fed any meat, dairy or other food with a high protein content.
    • As your tortoise grows older it will need a bigger cage, so you should plan for this even before you buy your tortoise. You should plan ahead to provide your tortoise with a proper habitat at all stages of its life.
    • If you have a tortoise, it is a good idea to arrange for a caretaker for it in the event of your death and include it in your will so that it can live on happily even after you pass.
    • Leopard Tortoises do not make good starter pets or pets for children since they require a lot of care and need to have peaceful, low-stress lives.
    • Love your tortoise and treat it as one of the family, always giving it what it needs and withholding what it should not have. If you do this, your tortoise will have a high quality of life and it will very likely outlive you.


    • No iceberg lettuce! Iceberg is devoid of nutritional value and is not an acceptable food source for your tortoise.
    • Never leave him outside on a cold night and never let his pen get too cold. Tortoises are highly susceptible to respiratory infection and will likely die if left in cool temperatures for too long.
    • Tortoises are known for being very slow, but when scared they can actually run quite fast. You may be tempted to entice your tortoise to run because you think it's fun to see. DO NOT do this. Their little hearts can't take it and it is very stressful for them to be running for their lives repeatedly.
    • Don't tap on his shell or cage. This is very disturbing and annoying to it.
    • Never capture a tortoise (or any other pet) out of the wild. It is unkind and inhumane and they often carry bacteria and diseases that could infect your household.
    • Some turtle food or tortoise food may say its okay for a box tortoise etc.. That does not make it okay for your Leopard since a box tortoise is an omnivore and eats both vegetables and meat.
    • Avoid buying your tortoise online or through a pet broker if at all possible. This will not allow you to examine your new pet beforehand, and the shipping process will place undue stress on your pet before your even receive it.
    • In South Africa it is against the law to keep any indigenous tortoise (e.g. the Leopard tortoise) in captivity without a licence from Nature Conservation.

    Article Info

    Categories: Turtles and Tortoises

    In other languages:

    Español: cuidar una tortuga leopardo, Русский: ухаживать за леопардовой черепахой, Italiano: Prendersi Cura della Tartaruga Leopardo, Português: Tomar Conta da Tartaruga Leopardo

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