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Afriška ostrogasta želva

(Geochelone sulcata)

This tortoise is the third largest land-dwelling tortoise (1st – on the Galapagos island, 2nd on the island of Seychelles), they are up to 80 cm long and weigh 60-90 kg – or even 100 kg. They experience a rapid growth during their first years – they can be as long as 20 – 30 cm. This is a very strong animal. Adult males – in contrast to other (our European) tortoise – are much larger than their female counterpart. They are yellow-brown; they sometimes even have dark shades of brown. They have a spurred outgrowth on their front feet. The outgrowth on their back legs is almost pointy. These outgrowths protected them from enemies. They have very strong claws – excellent tool for digging holes. The young tortoises´ shells are sharp at the edges and spurred. This is where the name spurred tortoise comes from. If in captivity, they need to be kept in a large area surrounded by a fence.


Spurred tortoise comes from hot and dry African areas. They need dry, desert-steppe and savannah climates. They don´t like humid or wet soil – especially not cold temperatures. They live in the north and central parts of Africa, south areas of Sahara; Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mauretania, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.


As mentioned before, they come from hot and dry (desert) areas of Africa where the temperatures are constantly 35°C. In the wild, during the hottest and driest period (June and August) they estivate – the opposite of hibernate. This is a so-called “summer rest”. They like to bury themselves up to 30cm or deeper into the ground. By doing so they maintain their body temperature and moisture. Their underground dens can be 10 or even more meters long. They usually have only one den. They often return to the den once they are done with the feeding.


Spurred tortoises are herbivores. In the wild, they eat dry grass, hay, cacti leaf, mulberry. In captivity, we can offer them endive, clover, carrots, leafs of grape vine, cucumbers, dry nettle, dandelion, edible weed, etc… It advisable you occasionally add calcium and vitamin D3 or a cuttlebone to their nutrition. Their food must contain a lot of fiber and little proteins – otherwise, their shell obtains the shape of a deformed pyramid.

Life expectancy

Up to 150 years and more.


In the wild, they mate after the rainy season; September – November. Males are larger than females and are sexually mature at the age of 5. During mating, the male emits a duck-like sound. Males are protective of their territory and fight for females. Six days after mating the males searches for a place to make her nest. They make it in 5-10 days. They dig many holes (nests) before deciding into which they will put their eggs. The digging of a single hole can last up to 5 or more hours (they dig with their rear legs). Females lay 5-40 eggs – it depends on the size of the tortoise. At the right humidity and temperature, after 90 – 120 days the baby tortoises hatch.


The tortoises don´t over-winter, that is why they need a vast area in the open and a large terrarium for the winter days. During the winter, they also need to be with temperatures 27-35°C.


Their name is made up of two Greek words. Geo, meaning soil and chelone, meaning tortoise.


On IUCN´s list of endangered species, they are classified as an endangered/vulnerable species. The CITIES convention classifies them under the appendix II.

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