30 Crucial Things to Know About the Leopard Tortoise
By Sviat Oleksiv | Updated on July 14, 2021
Leopard tortoises are a unique and very satisfying pet to look after. They can also be quite a challenge if you’ve never looked after or at least researched about tortoises before. These animals can live for quite some time and they also need a fair bit of space. Some of their requirements are pretty specifics too so you’d better be ready for the challenge. As with any other pet, the worst thing you can do is get the animal only to abandon it in a year.
So, what do you need to know before getting a leopard tortoise? Is this even the right pet for you? We’ll go over the 29 crucial things to know about the leopard tortoise below.
17 things to consider before buying a Leopard Tortoise as a pet
Why is this pet even called a leopard tortoise? It’s not because of its predatory character as that’s not the case – leopard tortoises are called that way simply because of the gorgeous spotty shells they carry around.
Leopard tortoises are kept as pets all across the world but the lands they call home are actually Ethiopia, South Africa, and Somalia, as well as several other African nations. This is important to note as it should give you an idea as to what type of climate these animals are used to.
What exactly is the character of this animal – what kind of pet are you going to live with? Like most tortoises, these spotted beauties are good-natured, calm, and non-aggressive. Their docile nature fits very well with their slow mobility and leopard tortoises fit neatly into the stereotypes we have of them.
While some other types of tortoises are known to sometimes bite people, leopard tortoises almost never do that. Of course, if you actively anger and torment the animal you can eventually expect some retaliation but not if you are gentle and friendly with your pet. The first and most common instinct of this tortoise when it feels threatened is to retreat into its shell and to wait for all the commotion to pass.
Male leopard tortoises can be aggressive toward other males in the wild but that doesn’t seem to be the case in captivity. If you want to get two male leopard tortoises and there’s also a female nearby you may see some hostility between the two males. However, this is a very specific situation that few pet owners will ever experience. For the most part, any hostility displayed in the wild is not present in captivity.
These tortoises are neither climbers nor burrowers like some other species. So, you can expect your tortoise to always stay grounded to your home’s floor or your yard. However, leopard tortoises love to roam and need a large enough space to thrive. This isn’t a pet you can keep locked in a single room or a cage.
Furthermore, even if you have a large home, it should be convenient enough for the tortoise to traverse. You can have a home with huge square footage but if there are too many stairs, closed doors, and other obstacles, your tortoise won’t be happy about it.
Do you need a yard for a leopard tortoise? Indeed you do. In fact, keeping a leopard tortoise in a yard is far preferable to keeping it indoors. While there’s nothing wrong in letting your tortoise roam your home too, the animal will need to spend quite some time outside. A large reason for that is the tortoise’s need for direct sunlight. Remember, these animals are native to countries like South Africa and Somalia.
So, not only does your home need a yard, but it needs it to be well-fenced and secure. There should be some shade too as well as a few convenient hiding places. If you get your tortoise as a hatchling, however, the first few months should be spent indoors. Babies require much more care to so check out some nice video tutorials on how to take care of them. Here’s a good example.
You should make the leopard tortoise’s enclosure suitable for its needs too. In other words, the yard should resemble the tortoise’s natural environment. For one, you should make sure there’s plenty of alfalfa or other grass for the tortoise to graze on. There should be ample sources of water too – at least a couple of large and shallow bowls of fresh and clean water.
There should always be a good basking area in the yard where the tortoise can get all the vitamin D it needs. And, in addition to all the grass, there should be some bare ground too for the tortoise to dig when it wants to. As we said, leopard tortoises are not too overactive diggers like some other species but they do bury their eggs so they want to dig from time to time.
What if you can’t keep your tortoise outdoors that often? In that case, you’ll need to build your pet a suitable indoor pen. It should be at least 10 by 10 feet (3 by 3 meters) and about 2 feet high (~66 cm). It should be in a warm part of your home and it should have everything the tortoise would expect to find outside.
You can let the tortoise roam your home from time to time, in fact, the tortoise will enjoy that. But the pen should still be there as the animal’s own space. Besides, if you let your tortoise out too much you can expect to start finding tortoise excrements on the floor.
So, how warm or hot should a leopard tortoise’s environment be? Ideally, the daytime temperature should always remain between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius). Anything higher than that, especially for prolonged periods of time, can have some unpleasant consequences for the tortoise’s health.
The nighttime temperatures should be no lower than 65o F (18o C). And, there should always be a spot of basking light in the yard/pen of the tortoise that reaches 95o F (35o C).
In terms of humidity, leopard tortoises don’t really tolerate damp weather and climate – 40% to 60% is ideal during the day and 70% to 80% is a good range during nighttime.
Ideally, the climate in the area where you live will fit these conditions year-round. If not and there’s a cold season, you’ll have to keep your tortoise in its indoors pen.
Can a leopard tortoise live along with other animals? Yes and no. The leopard tortoise itself is going to be perfectly safe for most other animals, namely dogs and cats. Feline pets should also be perfectly safe for your tortoise, especially once they get used to it.
A dog can present a problem, however. Even if your canine is friendly and gentle toward the tortoise, you never know if there won’t be an accident at some point. Even well-trained dogs can “lose their heads” in excitement from time to time and harm the tortoise. So, you should either:
Avoid putting a leopard tortoise and a dog together
Always be around to make sure they interact in a safe manner
Train your dog superbly well so that it never gets in an accident with the tortoise.
How about kids – do leopard tortoises get along with kids well enough? This is a solid yes – these tortoises will be perfectly safe for any child as long as the kid is old enough to understand that it shouldn’t torment the animal and try to reach inside its shell. So, babies can be a bit problematic but kids outgrow that phase relatively quickly.
How much do these unique animals cost, exactly? Not as much as you might expect. Depending on where you live and where you’re getting your pet from, a leopard tortoise can cost anywhere between $100 and $1,000. This is definitely not nothing but also isn’t much for such an exotic and fascinating pet. The more major costs of looking after a leopard tortoise will come from the decades-long care you’ll need to provide.
The life expectancy of these astonishing animals is incredibly long – usually between 50 and 100 years, depending on how you look after them! Believe it or not, this isn’t even that long for a tortoise. However, it’s definitely a lot for a household pet.
What does this mean for you? It means a very major commitment. If you are serious about adding an animal to your family and looking after them, you should be ready for the challenge. So, if you are of age yourself, you should know that someone in your family is ready to look after the tortoise after you’re gone. Even if you are young yourself, chances are that a leopard tortoise will outlive you. Simply put, this is a multigenerational pet.
The leopard tortoise is not just long-living, it’s also quite large. These pets can get as long as 10 to 18 inches ( 25.4 to 45 cm) and as heavy as 40 to 50 pounds (18 to 23 kg). This too isn’t too much for a tortoise but is quite a challenge for a pet. Yes, there are many dog breeds who are that heavy too but consider that a tortoise is not as easily “mobile” as a dog.
You should be physically ready to pick up and carry a 50-pound tortoise whenever necessary. The same goes for anyone who may get to look after the tortoise for you.
Assuming you have the physical strength to pick a leopard tortoise up, is this something the animal will tolerate? Yes and no – leopard tortoises definitely don’t like being picked up. It stresses them out and they will hide in their shell and be grumpy for some time. So, handling them too much is generally not advised unless it’s necessary. However, it’s not really harmful to the animal and it’s unlikely to provoke aggression.
Is the leopard tortoise a good pet for you? To figure that out you’ll need to ask yourself several key questions:
Is a lifespan of up to 100 years on with me (and my family)?
Can I offer my tortoise the precise conditions and environment it needs (and am I willing to go through the trouble)?
Do I want a pet that’s not as interactive as a dog or a cat but is pretty unique and fascinating?
If the answer to all these questions is a resounding Yes, then the leopard tortoise may be suitable for you.
How to prepare for owning a Leopard Tortoise pet – 5 key things to do first
The first and most important part of preparing for a leopard tortoise is setting up its living quarters. If you have a yard, this should be easy – plant edible grass, put a few water bowls, some shade and decoration, and leave a clear basking spot where the sun will shine non-stop for at least 10-12 hours a day every day. A leopard tortoise needs a lot of sunlight to thrive so its enclosure should accommodate that. If you have to build an indoor pen for the winter, you’ll also need to get a UVB basking light to compensate for the lack of sunlight.
How about food? Leopard tortoises are herbivores and are relatively easy to feed. 50% to 80% of their diet should consist of just the grass they graze in their yard or indoor enclosure. So, edible (and pesticide-free) grasses such as alfalfa, timothy grass, and hay are ideal. It’s a good idea to start with several different types to give your tortoise enough diversity and options. All this should be prepared in advance, before you’ve brought your tortoise home.
Check if leopard tortoises are even legal where you live. These gorgeous animals aren’t actually allowed anywhere. Additionally, some countries such as the US allow the breeding and keeping of leopard tortoises but don’t allow their import. This is because foreign leopard tortoises can bring with them certain ticks and other parasites. So check the legality of leopard tortoises in your area before you commit to any investment.
Choose a healthy tortoise. The way to accomplish that means finding a reputable breeder that’s willing to provide you with a health certificate for the animal and its parents. Also, check the shell, skin, and eyes of the tortoise – they should all be clear, with good, bright color, and the shell should be free of any scratches, damage, markings, and rot.
Find a good vet ahead of time. This can sound simple if you’re used to dogs and cats but not all vets have experience with tortoises. This type of vet is usually called “an exotics veterinarian.” If you can’t find a veterinarian near you who specializes in tortoises then you may need to rethink your choice of pet entirely.
8 tips for successfully looking after a Leopard Tortoise
Just letting your tortoise graze is not enough for a good diet. Between 20% and 50% of the animal’s food should come from other sources. A good idea is to feed your tortoise once a day with additional vegetables such as collard greens, dandelion greens, carrots, watercress, and others.
You can put these on a bed of timothy hay and let your tortoise eat for about 15 to 30 minutes. Anything more than that can lead to an overweight tortoise which is no fun. The simple rule is that the pile of veggies should be roughly the size of the tortoise’s shell.
Avoid giving your tortoise other pet food as well as leafy greens or fruits. The latter two can wreak havoc in the tortoise’s metabolism while the former can destroy its kidneys.
Maintaining a good and balanced diet is important as anything else can result in metabolic bone disease and other unfortunate conditions. So, always double-check your tortoise’s diet with your veterinarian.
If you have to keep your tortoise indoors for a few months every year you’ll need to use some additional food to compensate. A UVB basking light won’t be enough so you should also feed your tortoise a high-quality tortoise food that’s rich in calcium and Vitamin D3.
Beak health is important for tortoises similar to how dental health is important to us and other mammals. To help your tortoise’s beak be healthy you can get pieces of cuttlebone from the bird sections in pet stores. A leopard tortoise will enjoy gnawing on it and it will also provide some extra calcium.
Cleaning and changing your tortoise’s water pans is essential. Use filtered water and wash the pans themselves with soap regularly.
Track the humidity levels in your tortoise’s enclosure be it the yard or its indoor pen. If the relative humidity levels go above the acceptable range you should act immediately to lower them. High humidity can easily lead to a respiratory infection in your leopard tortoise as well as to shell rot which is a type of fungal infection.
Don’t skip on any of the regular veterinary checkups your vet recommends. Identifying the various health condition a tortoise can suffer from is complicated and is best done by a professional. It’s also essential that you catch any heath problem early if you want your leopard buddy to live to the ripe old age of a hundred years old.