The pancake tortoise is quite a different shape from other tortoises. The adult's shell is about 15cm long and only about 3cm high presenting a very flattened appearance, hence its name. The underside of the shell, known as the plastron, is very soft and flexible so that it yields under pressure, enabling it to squeeze into crevices in times of danger.
Large males get the most chances to mate in the breeding season. Small males will not even approach females in the presence of larger males. The female tortoise will lay one egg at a time, and up to four in a year at different times. The baby tortoises are independent as soon as they hatch.
In the wild the tortoises feed on grasses and succulent plants.
In the Zoo our pancake tortoises eat grasses, dandelions, plantains, dead nettles, goose grass and other seasonally available leafy greens.
Pancake tortoises inhabit rocky granite outcrops called 'kopjes' and are agile climbers. When disturbed the tortoise runs and hides in crevices in the rock, where it anchors itself with its front legs and wedges its soft flexible plastron against the sides of the hiding place so tightly that it is very difficult to remove. They are most active in the cool morning.
This species is classified as Vulnerable; the collection of wild animals for the pet trade is an ever-present threat.
African pancake tortoises are on a European Breeding Programme, which is co-ordinated across Europe by Tim Skelton, our curator of reptiles & amphibians here at Bristol Zoo Gardens. Several young pancake tortoises have been hatched successfully in the Zoo's incubators.
We are co-ordinating a DNA project in partnership with U.W.E. and sponsored by the British Chelonia Group which aims to give Tim Skelton, our curator of reptiles & amphibians, a genetic knowledge of the entire European zoo population and to facilitate better breeding management and recommendations.
You can find our African pancake tortoises in the Reptile House, near Twilight World and the Aquarium.
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