Zimbabwe: Hwange NP – Leopard Tortoises
While not endangered, the beautiful leopard tortoise is very hard to spot and find in the savanna in southeast Africa (I have seem them before in Madagascar). In Hwange National Park – it was actually two of them! Leopard tortoises are about 30-40cm or just around a foot long at maximum and they live very long, up to 50-60 years (that is like 5 generations of lions). Adult tortoises roam around feeding on grasses and occasionally on bones and hyena feces (which are very high in bone matter) to consume calcium needed for the growth of their shells. Interestingly, they have no natural predators as the shell provides complete protection and even hyenas that try to open them rarely succeed. Eggs and hatchlings however are a prime delicacy for many predators – so tortoises lay 30-50 eggs at a time to survive by sheer numbers. Despite the stereotype of being slow, they can move quite fast and hide in grass. Leopard tortoises are part of the “small five” in African game – leopard tortoise, elephant shrew (a rodent), buffalo weaver (a bird), antlion (an insect), and rhino beetle (an insect).