Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

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Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Larry'sMom » Fri Jan 29, 2016 2:03 pm

Hi guys,

I am new to the forum, I have posted an introductory post. I have lots of questions about keeping a leopard tortoise.

I got one from my mother in law... she claims it just walked into her garden. I don't have a permit, I have not seen any posts for anyone looking for a tortoise (we live in the same suburb) so I don't know how true it is (if maybe someone was giving it away or what). Regardless, I now have him. He is still little (slightly bigger than the palm of my hand) so I have no idea how old he is.

I have dedicated the flower bed by our bedroom window to him. It's a big flowerbed (it runs along the whole width of the room and extends a bit into the garden as well, so it's not too narrow). I am still busy making it his home but have done the following:

1) I have a tray that I am using as his water bowl. I have this next to the wall, where it's not in direct sunlight and doesn't evaporate quickly. I will get him a bigger one as he grows.
2) I built him a little house with my dad this past weekend. It's literally just a wooden box-type house. I am going to look for straw or dried moss this weekend, to fill it up so he can burrow in there if he wants (it is bare at the moment, save for a little blanket I've put in there so it's not hard- not ideal I know). The house is also next to the wall so when it rains, it doesn't get soaked (although it has been waterproofed).
3) He can reach the grass along the flowerbed and he does graze on it, but I have gotten another big tray that I have planted grass seeds in. I am going to leave this tray in the flowerbed so he has more grass, but it doesn't spread to the entire flowerbed (we are just renting).
4) I got another tray that I am going to fill with weeds. I know there are certain, very common weeds, that are vital to their diet/ much liked by them so I am going to have them in the tray for him.
5) I let him out the flowerbed in the mornings and in the evening, and then "put him to bed" at night. I am not at home during the day (work) and because he is so little still, I am scared of loosing him in the garden.
6) I have moved a lot of the succulents we have to the flowerbed. He likes rose cacti (he's eaten two of them this week), aloe (he ate a whole little one I bought for him in one day) and Cotyledon orbiculata (pigs ears).

I hope I am doing OK so far. The questions I have is:

1) He doesn't shy away from me too much anymore, but he won't eat from my hand. He ate from my hand once, but I think he thought he was eating from the plant. I've had him for two weeks, am I being too hasty?
2) He doesn't explore his flower bed too much. There are three plants he like to hide in (one is a bottle-brush type bush, the other two look like Agapanthus plants but I've never seen them flower)- he has in fact made a burrow under one. I don't know how to get him to explore the rest of the bed (those three plants are like his comfort blankets). It's a pity because I've planted another type of aloe and another type of succulent (I think they may be Senecio serpens but because I only had a few cuttings and they haven't spread yet I can't say for certain). It worries me that he doesn't explore because there isn't anymore space where he likes to chill for me to put the grass and weed trays. How can I get him to explore a little more? He has no problem taking a stroll in the garden when I let him out in the morning and evening.
3) How do I get him to try new foods? My mother in law was feeding him just lettuce from the sounds of it. I've put prickly pairs on the leftover stems of the aloes he's eaten (because I know he eats there) but he doesn't touch it. I've left hibiscus stems (with flowers and leaves), various weeds but he ignored him all. I am busy germinating a few plants for him to eat (Hollyhock, Echinacea and Snapdragons) and I've got gerberas and rose plants that I bought for him too. I'm worried he isn't getting enough variety. I've also bought him sage, oregano and comfrey plants. I even tried a strawberry but he wasn't interested. I'm worried he isn't getting a good variety.
4) Speaking of the comfrey, there was a lot of conflicting information on this (some sites say it's fine, others say no way). Should I keep it in his garden or take it out?
5) Marigolds. Again a lot of conflicting info. I have the gold/ orange ones in abundance in my garden (not where he can get to them though). Can they eat this?

Thank you in advance! And apologies for the questions, I just want to make sure I'm doing right by my little guy.
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby GetGekked » Fri Jan 29, 2016 10:35 pm

I don't really know much about leopard tortoise care - but I know about the permits. You need a permit and you can get it by phoning the nearest nature conservation. They will basically ask you some questions and might come to your house. if you keep a leopard tortoise for more than five years illegally and you have proof you can get a permit immediately. Make sure that you don't use pesticide on any of the plants that you are feeding him. Depending on where you live you might want to bring him inside because of heatstroke. Well that's my 2 cents for this post
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Mellivora » Sat Jan 30, 2016 1:12 am

I wish I was as spoiled as this tortoise!!
Couple of items:
1) His house should basically just be a cover, open on 1 side, under which he can hide. It need not be much higher than the tortoise itself plus 5 centimeters, with width and depth about twice the length of the tortoise length. (The 5 cm is to allow for the additional height when he is walking)

2) It may be worthwhile to have 2, one against the wall, which will be nice in winter and at night as the wall retains heat and one in a shady spot as a hide during our current heatwave.

3) Other treats that you can consider is a piece of cucumber, sliced as the skin is a bit tough to bite through. Nutritional value may not be very high but it is a good source of water. A cherry tomato or a wedge of a larger tomato once a week will also go down well but be careful not to feed to much tomato.

4) Tortoises require a fair amount of calcium in their diet. Calcium powder is available at most pet shops and can be sprinkled over their food, but is not always practical. Try leaving a egg shell out in the sun to dry, crush it in small pieces and place on a bare patch and see whether your tortoise will eat this.

I sincerely hope that your tortoise will provide you with many hours of pleasure, but bear in mind that it will have to be a long term commitment as they grow very old - and large and heavy - and once you have spoiled it it might not be fair to release it back into nature where all the fancy foods will not be in ample supply.
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Larry'sMom » Sat Jan 30, 2016 7:42 am

Thanks GetGekked, I was worried about the permit as I was afraid they'd seen the garden unfit and take him away but if it's as simple as that I'll get one.

@Mallivora, thank you for your reply. His house is completely open on the one side so he can go in and out as he wishes. Someone told me I should just prop a piece of wood up against the wall like a little open tent type house? His current house is quite big to accommodate for movement and growth.

I'll try the cucumber, thank you. He wasn't too keen in a cherry tomato I tried to I'll give him last week. I also gave him a cuttlefish for this calcium, are eggshells the better option?

And yes, I am more than prepared to keep him forever. I love my animals, he is pet number 7 (my cats are very nervous of him, and I keep him separated from my dogs because while the one is very good, just excited to see him (doesn't touch him though, just a quick sniff and runs around him a lot) my other, much younger and bigger dog, is nervous/ excited and licks him a lot while quivering so she has a lot of calming down to do.
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby GetGekked » Sat Jan 30, 2016 8:52 am

If you go too the pet shop to get calcium powder, DO NOT buy ready made tortoise pellets. the natural diet that you are giving him is much better than any pre made things
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Sico » Sat Jan 30, 2016 2:53 pm


Ok first of all, you can find plenty info on tortoise diets by using the search function on the forum, several members including myself have posted the info at various times. DO NOT GIVE TORTOISES TOMATO! Yes they like it, but in large amounts the acid is bad for them. They will graze on several grass species, and several indigenous succulent species, as well as most aloe species and they love Prickly pear leaves. As far as calcium goes, they don't need as much as you think, I have a couple, I never give them supplemental calcium, they eat the odd garden snail, they gnaw on the dogs bones from time to time, and occasionaly snap at an eggshell or two off the compost heap. If you are going to give it a bit of eggshell, it really needs a minute amount (pinky fingernail size) finely ground into a powder between two spoons and dusted over the food every now and then.
The suggestion for the shelter is good, for a tortoise your size, I would use 3 bricks, standing on edge with a bit of wood or metal or whatever on the top as a lid, and another brick to keep it flying off in the wind. pull up a bunch of long grass and shove it in there, or take a handful of lawn clippings or something. Tortoises don't care what they sleep in as long as it's fairly sheltered and fairly dry.
A wide shallow dish sunken into the ground (like those dishes that go under flower pots) and kept full of CLEAN water will be more than adequate. They cost nothing, and the tortoise can't drown in it. They often climb right in to drink. Water should always be available.
It's a tortoise not a dog or a cat, why do you want to hand feed it? Eventually it MAY get more used to people, and approach you when it sees you when it learns to associate you with food, but it's not a mammal, don't expect it to act like a mammal, and don't treat it like a mammal (Ie don't sit with it on the couch watching TV, and try and snuggle with it etc). Leave it in its enclosure and ejoy it as it should be enjoyed - on its own little mission around the garden.
Tortoises are expert climbers and diggers. If there is a small hole, it will find its way through. Make sure your enclosure is very secure. It probably escaped from semewhere else, after being picked up by some fool that wanted to surprise their kids with a cute pet. Luckily you have it now.
As far as permits go, you don't say where you live, but I wouldn't even bother. It's far too much hassle and really makes no difference in the greater scheme of things. Just keep it secure, and healthy and no one will have an issue, other than nature conservation, and how will they know huh? Dogs love eating tortoises, make sure you keep them separated.
Whatever you do, don't think it's lonely and buy another one off the side of the road, or pick one up crossing the road whilst on your travels, and if you decide one day that you can no longer keep it, then find someone who already has some, and can see to its needs, and pass it on to them, than go and release it back into nature. That comes with so many issues I'm not going to list them here...
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Larry'sMom » Mon Feb 01, 2016 10:51 am

Thanks Sico. I had a look at many websites and found a lot of conflicting info, hence the questions regarding the comfrey and marigold.

Thanks for the heads-up regarding the tomatoes. He didn't eat the one I tried, so I probably just won't try again.

I'll do the other house for him this coming weekend. Yeah he doesn't seem very bothered about where he is sleeping at the moment, I think I care more than he does. :)

I have also been soaking him in water for a few minutes about once a week, I read that it's a good way for them to stay hydrated.

I want it to get used to people as I do hope one day to have him both in and out the house (especially come winter, I won't keep him outside at night and I plan on making him a perspex box he can sit in to absorb heat if he wants). I don't want him to be petrified of people around him and just hide when inside. My father has an older leopard tortoise who will come at sit right by your feet and will follow you around the garden so I feel that they also like to be part of the family.

But going back to my tortoise, I generally do just leave him in his enclosure, save for letting him graze the patch of weeds we have in the one part of the garden and inspecting him for parasites and all.

I live in Gauteng, in the West Rand. Yeah I don't think anyone will know we have him. We don't have palisade fencing or anything so it's not like anyone can even see him.

I have read that you can't keep pairs, so he will always be a lone tortoise (with his kitty companions). :)
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Ales » Thu Feb 04, 2016 10:46 am

You seem to have most things in check. My tortoises diet generally consists of 70% grasses, 15% leaves/weeds, 10% vegetables and 5% fruit.
Mulberry leaves make up a large part of their "leaves" percentage as I have a big tree in my garden. They're a soft leaf and the tortoises are crazy about them. They also really like the mulberries when in season.

It may take a few months for him to 'come out of his shell'. I was given a tortoise similar sized to yours and it took him a year to settle down completely.

He will settle a lot faster if you leave him in one spot and don't touch him much. Picking him up and moving him around every day is probably freaking him out a bit.
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby Bushviper » Mon Feb 08, 2016 4:25 pm

You could quite happily ask nature Conservation for a permit. I was led to believe that they have no interest in confiscating tortoises and would probably issue you with a permit if you tell them how it all came about. Phone them from a private number and ask if this would be possible. You have no put where you are situated. If you are living in Gauteng this might be possible. I cannot vouch for any other provinces.
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Re: Leopard Tortoises Do's and Don'ts

Postby BrianChamier » Thu Feb 18, 2016 11:35 pm

Sorry Larry'sMom only saw this now.
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