ISSN 2398-2985  

African spurred tortoise


Synonym(s): Centrochelys sulcata (formerly Geochelone sulcate), Sulcata tortoise


Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia.
  • Phylum: Chordata.
  • Class: Reptilia.
  • Order: Testudines.
  • Suborder: Cryptodira.
  • Family: Testudinidae.
  • Genus: Centrochelys.
  • Species: sulcata.

Distribution and habitat

  • Although native to the Sahara Desert, the African spurred tortoise is also found in Sahel, an ecoregion of semiarid grasslands, savannas and thorn shrublands, where permanent water supplies are few and far between.
  • It is found in countries such as: Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.
  • In their natural habitat these tortoises will retreat to burrows in the ground to escape extreme weather conditions.
  • Burrows can reach a depth of around 76 cm/30 inches, that being said, complex tunneling can reach 3 m/10 feet.

Species status

  • The African spurred tortoise is currently registered under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable.
  • Populations have decreased due to habitat loss in regions such as Mali, Chad, Niger and Ethiopia. Mankind choosing to make their homes within the same areas as the tortoises, and domestic livestock consuming the tortoises food contribute to this. Desertification occurs on top of this making co-existence difficult for the tortoises.
  • The species is desirable to the international trade due to its body parts being used in Japanese concoctions.
  • These tortoises can also be found on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Life span

  • The average life span of an African spurred tortoise is about 50-80 years, though they can live to be over 100 years old. Therefore, getting exotic tailored insurance is a wise idea.
  • In captivity, the oldest age of 54 years was recorded in 1986 by the Giza Zoological Gardens in Egypt.


  • As a herbivore, the African spurred tortoise’s diet mainly consists of fiber in the form of many types of grass, plants and high quality hay. Some other plants can also be consumed; but food high in sugar such as fruit should be avoided to prevent gastrointestinal problems Chelonia nutrition.
  • Foods that are safe include collard greens, red leaf lettuce, hibiscus leaves and dandelions.
  • Some common garden plants, eg azaleas, daffodil and foxglove are toxic.
  • The African spurred tortoise, if left to its own devices, can sometimes overeat. This can mean they consume too much protein. This in turn contributes towards shell malformations and pyramiding Pyramidal growth syndrome. For this very reason dog and cat food should never be fed to tortoises, as well as the fact these tortoises are strict herbivores.


  • Breeding for the African spurred tortoise usually occurs after a wet spell during September to November, but can happen at any time from June to March Chelonia reproduction.
  • As with many other species, males are in competition with each other for breeding rights and will often fight and inflict injuries. Behavior can include ramming into each other and attempting to flip one another over.
  • Tortoises tend to be vocal when mating.
  • Clutches may contain 15-20+ eggs.
  • The female can be very indecisive about where she makes her nest, she may dig several nests before deciding on the one she will lay her eggs in.
  • Once the eggs are laid, the female fills in the nest and incubation takes place for around 85-100 days.

As pets

  • African spurred tortoises can raise challenges when kept as pets and have several requirements including:
    • Large enclosures such as large yards/gardens.
    • Temperatures around 27-29°C/80-85°F.
    • They should have a basking temperature of around 30-35°C/88-95°F.
    • The temperature at night should not drop <24°C/75°F.
    • Bedding composed of grasses or grass-based hay.
    • Sufficient calcium for bone and shell development.
    • Low to no sugar foods.

Biological Data

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

Other sources of information

  • British Chelonian Group (2018) Sulcata or African Giant Spur Thighed Tortoise or Sahel Tortoise (Centrochelys (formely geochelone) sulcata). Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.
  • Chadwell Animal Hospital (2018) African Spurred Tortoise Care Sheet. Website: Last accessed 25th January 2018.
  • Reptiles Magazine (2018) Sulcata Tortoise Health Problems. Website: Last accessed 25th January 2018.
  • Alderton D (2016) Tortoise Food and Diet Advice. Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.
  • Labelle T (2016) Tortoise: Old, Older, Oldest! Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.
  • Latney L (2016) Care of Sulcata or African Spur Thighed Tortoise. Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.
  • San Diego Turtle and Tortoise Society (2013) Caring for the Sulcate (African Spur Thighed) or the Leopard. Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.
  • Roberts L & Budd R (2008) Sulcata Care Sheet. Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.
  • Wildscreen Arkive (2008) African Spurred Tortoise. Website: Last accessed 25th January 2018.
  • Baillie J & Groombridge B (1996) Centrochelys sulcata. Website: Last accessed 10th June 2018.

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