everything you ever needed to know about Namibian tortoises
A tortoise is a turtle that lives on land. They are reptiles of the family Testudinidae, order Testudines. Along with terrapins and turtles they belong to the Order Chelonia. Evidence found in Germany has confirmed that tortoises inhabited the earth before dinosaurs, dating back to the Triassic Period (± 210million years ago). Fossils discovered in the Southern Africa region date back to the early Jurassic Period (± 180 million years ago).
The tortoise has both an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton and they are shielded from predators by a shell. The top section is called the carapace, the underside the plastron and the two are connected by the bridge. Tortoises can vary in size from a few centimetres to 2m and are known to be shy and generally reclusive animals.
Female tortoises dig nesting burrows. Between 1 and 30 eggs are laid, usually at night. The mother tortoise will cover her clutch with soil, sand and vegetable matter and leave the eggs unattended for periods of 60 to 120 days. On completion of the incubation period the hatchling, (which is now fully-formed) uses an egg tooth to break out of the shell. It can then dig out of the nest and life and survival begins.
Tortoises learn how to survive quickly and adapt to the outside world once it leaves the nest. Baby tortoises can survive for themselves for the first 7 days and then survive on worms or insect larvae for additional protein, before moving on to lettuce and eventually to other adult related food sources.
The size and subsequently the lifespan of a tortoise depends on the availability of food and water. It goes without saying that a pet tortoise fed regularly by its owner, or one with plenty of access to forage will live longer than a desert-dwelling tortoise. Their life time is comparable to that of human beings and some individuals have been known to live for longer than 150 years. The belief that the age of a tortoise can be drawn from the number of concentric rings on its carapace (such as in a tree), is nothing more than an old wives tale. Tortoises living in more favourable living conditions and a subsequent better diet display more concentric rings than others with a less nutritious habitat.
Jonathan, a Seychelles Giant Tortoise living on the island of St Helena, is believed to be 180 years old and (if true) he could be the oldest living animal on the planet. The Leopard Tortoise is Namibia's largest (up to 20kg) and the smallest is the Nama Padloper (200g). Namibia has the 2nd largest tortoise diversity in the world. There are 6 species in 5 genera.
Tortoises do make good pets as they are considered low-maintenance. Nevertheless they still demand adequate living conditions and a balanced diet just as with any other pet. The Leopard Tortoise is the most popular due to its adaptability as opposed to the shyer and smaller Tent Tortoises. Most pet tortoises require a diet based on wild grasses, leafy greens, some fruits and flowers although some species feed on worms or insects.
A word of warning to pet owners; do not to feed too much protein to your tortoise as it can can cause shell deformation and other tortoise related medical illnesses. Cat or dog foods do not contain the proper balance of nutrients for a reptile and in general are too high in protein and should not be used. Nor should porridge. Pet tortoises cannot all be fed on the same diet as different species vary in nutritional requirements. Dietery needs should be researched and consultation with your local qualified veterinarian specialising in chelonian care is advised.
The Conservation and Legal Status for tortoises in Namibia states they are all vulnerable, less for the Bowsprit and endemic Nama Padloper Tortoise.
There are 7 species of tortoise in Namibia. They are:
- Bowsprit Tortoise (Chersina angulata)
- Bushmanland Tent Tortoise (Psammobates tentorius verroxii)
- Kalahari Tent Tortoise (Psammobates oculiferus)
- Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis)
- Nama Padloper Tortoise (Homopus sp.)
- Namaqualand Tent Tortoise (Psammobates tentorius trimeni)
- Speke's Hinged Tortoise (Kinixys spekii)
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