Pancake Tortoise

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Species group:

Other common names: African Pancake Tortoise; Soft-shelled Tortoise

Scientific name: Malacochersus tornieri

The basics:
Inhabiting altitudes of up 5,000 feet in the eastern Africa countries of Kenya and Tanzania, the Pancake Tortoise is becoming an endangered species. Its specialized nature and capture for the pet trade have led their listing by the IUCN as “vulnerable.” They are found strictly in rocky habitats. Some populations have adapted to temperatures that drop into the 50’s.

Appearance / health:
The unusualness of this petite species has earned it a spot as the only member of the genus Malacochersus. The Pancake Tortoise is indeed flattened like a thick pancake and its shell is soft and flexible. This adaptation allows it to wedge itself into small crevasses and rock outcroppings. Their shells are golden yellow-brown with light centers. The darker markings make a radiating design with a light center in each scute.

AVERAGE ADULT WEIGHT: 360 – 550 grams

AVERAGE ADULT SIZE: 6 - 7 inches, less than 2 inches tall

Behavior / temperament:
These are social tortoise that will hang out in their rocky retreats together. They are active and fast making for an enjoyable pet.

The Pancake Tortoise is well designed for rocky and mountainous habitats. Their captive home should replicate their natural habitat as much as possible. They need an overall dry environment and kept outdoors as much as your local climate allows. For an ideal outdoor enclosure a minimum of 8 square feet of ground space for 2 Pancake Tortoises is a good start. The ground under them should be well covered with grasses and sand and must be kept dry. Furnishings should include lots of rocks and mountains to climb. They will also appreciate shrubs and other places to hide. Their indoor set up should most closely resemble their outdoor habitat as much as possible. Be sure to provide a full spectrum light when housed indoors. They may use a very shallow pond.

LIFESPAN: 50+ years

TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY: Day Temperatures: 77-85° F, Night Temperatures: 55-69° F, Basking: 95° F, Low Humidity.

HIBERNATION / ESTIVATION: The Pancake Tortoise does not hibernate.

HEALTH CONCERNS: Pancake Tortoises are often infected with the parasite Hexamita parva and are prone to viral stomatitis. They can also get respiratory conditions from an improper captive environment. The most common illness, Metabolic Bone Disorder (MBD) is caused by poor nutrition and lack of natural sunlight or UVB light. Your reptile veterinarian will be an invaluable resource to you and your tortoise in understanding, treating, and preventing any illnesses.

The natural diet of a Pancake Tortoise is completely herbivorous. Their captive diet should also be highly plant based and as close to their natural diet as possible. It’s best to plant and feed natural foods which should include naturally growing grasses and succulents. Other good choices are hibiscus, clover, dandelion, mulberry, violets, and endive. They can be fed once or twice a week supplemental foods in addition to their naturally growing foods. Supplemental foods can include dark greens, alfalfa, and a reptile vitamin.

The males initiate the breeding process. To court the female they will get into an overexcited state; circling and biting the female of choice. Clutches are small with only one or two eggs being laid in a sandy area. The inch long hatchlings look like a normal tortoise with a round domed carapace.

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