Third Largest Tortoise Species Visits for the Summer 

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo welcomes five spur-thigh tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) who are making the Zoo their home for the summer. The African spur thigh tortoise, also known as the spurred tortoise, is the third largest species of tortoise in the world, after the Galapagos tortoise and the Aldabra giant tortoise. It is the largest of all mainland tortoises.

“Attendance at the Zoo soars each summer, so it’s a great time to bring such special animals here as our temporary guests,” said Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “Tortoises also love summer heat, and the spur thigh tortoise is particularly well-adapted to hot temperatures. Also there is the educational message that these wonderful animals do not make good pets! Make wise not wild choices!”

“The Zoo will be home to the tortoises from August 1 until sometime this fall,” said Dancho.

African spur thigh tortoises are large, and push and knock over heavy objects with ease. One of their unusual behaviors is that they may ram each other, with males especially ramming females. The force with which one tortoise rams another can be intimidating, given their strength. They are generally slow moving, however, in order to conserve energy. They dig burrows in the ground to take shelter from their harsh, hot habitat, with some tunnel systems extending ten or more feet underground. Adult tortoises average 18 inches in shell length and 70-100 pounds in weight. Specimens reaching two to three feet length and more than 150 pounds, however, are not uncommon.

They are able to go weeks without food. In the wild, they mainly eat grasses and leaves of desert scrub. They get the water they need from the plants they eat. African spur thigh tortoises’ conservation status is listed currently as vulnerable, due to habitat loss and over collection for the pet trade.