African Spurred Tortoise

ORDER: Chelonia

FAMILY: Testudinidae

GENUS: Geochelone

SPECIES: sulcata

Carapace is flattened and of a tan or brown color with darker brown borders on the growth rings bordering the scutes. Plastron is ivory to light tan in color. Head and limbs are the same color as the shell and are protected with thick scales. Has one or more enlarged, conical spurs (or tubercles) on the upper hind limbs. Largest mainland tortoise in the world with some males weighing over 200 pounds, females about half as much. Length up to 30 inches.

Arid savannah and acacia scrublands at the southern edge of the Sahara, from Mauritania to Ethiopia.

Herbivorous. Mixed grasses, edible flowers, certain weeds and very small amounts of grocery store produce are recommended for captive tortoises. Any animal protein or large amounts of vegetable protein will cause carapace deformity and a shortened life span.

Most activity takes place at dusk or dawn. Courtship and mating are similar to other very large tortoises, with ramming battles between the males. Mating occurs in autumn, up to 20 round eggs are laid in mid-winter and hatch in spring. Young grow rapidly and reach maturity before their second decade. Life span can be over 100 years.

Large overlapping scales on forelimbs assist in digging long burrows, some extending ten feet or more underground. Burrows are used to escape from extreme high and low temperatures. The skin is considerably thickened which helps restrict water loss.

Most commonly purchased pet tortoise in North America, but because of purchaser's ignorance of their eventual large size and long life span, many end up donated to rescue societies or abandoned (i.e. "released to the wild" where they usually die). Tortoises as large as the spurred tortoise once roamed all the major continents and became extinct relatively recently.

The African Spurred Tortoise can be found in the African Savanna.

Not as heavily exploited for food as other large tortoises, but listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.


  1. Ernst, C & Barbour, R. 1989. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, pp. 249-50.
  2. Internet. "African Spurred Tortoise Care Sheet". San Diego Turtle and Tortoise Society.
  3. Pritchard, Peter. 1979. The Encyclopedia of Turtles. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune NJ, pp. 262-3.