African spur-thigh tortoise

Centrochelys sulcata

IUCN Status: Vulnerable


A herbivore of the drier desert regions, sulcata tortoises eat a lot of dried grasses which are high in fibre and low in protein. Here at the zoo they get basic diet of hay, dried alfalfa, dandelions and grated squash with daytime summer access to their grass paddock.


Sulcata tortoises breed after the rains between September and November. A clutch of about 30 eggs are deposited about half a metre below ground level where they will develop and hatch over 90 days or so to make use of the new grass and growth from the rains.

At The Zoo

We have a pair of these tortoises, the male being over 45 years of age. Eggs are regularily laid but we do not incubate these. These animals share their environment with a rhino iguana as both species like a dry hot sunny environment with plenty of ultra-violet light.


Sulcata or African spur-thigh tortoises live in the Sahel! This region is where the Sahara desert meets the savanna in northern Africa and semi-arid grasslands, savannas, and thorn shrublands are found in the countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan.

Fun Facts

The third largest species of tortoise exceeded in size by the Aldabran and Galapagos tortoise species. They can live well into 70 years+ and attain size of about 90cms in length and 100kgs.


This tortoise survives the harsh Sahel environment by digging tunnels where during the worst of the years drought it can aestivate. It often uses these tunnels during the day to escape the heat and they are dug to depth where the moisture in the air is ideal for them to relax. The tunnels can be up to a metre deep and extend 3 metres back t create the right resting environment.