Video: Meet a perfect pair of pancake tortoises

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Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.

This week we explore the rocky life of the peculiar pancake tortoise.

jpco-20-11-13  Tilgate Nature centre Animal magic, Pancake Tortouise  (Pic by Jon Rigby)

jpco-20-11-13 Tilgate Nature centre Animal magic, Pancake Tortouise (Pic by Jon Rigby)

Pancake tortoise

(Malacochersus tornieri)

Pancake shell

Pancake tortoises are found around rocky outcrops on the plains of Kenya and Tanzania.

jpco-20-11-13  Tilgate Nature centre Animal magic, Pancake Tortouise  (Pic by Jon Rigby)

jpco-20-11-13 Tilgate Nature centre Animal magic, Pancake Tortouise (Pic by Jon Rigby)

While most tortoise species have rounded shells the pancake tortoise has an unusually flat shell – which is how it earned its name!

Their shells are also much thinner and more flexible than their solid cousins’ which means they are able to move quickly and are very good climbers. This helps them to expertly navigate their natural rocky environment.

Pancake tortoises are also able to wedge themselves tightly in the gaps between rocks which helps them to avoid predators. In fact, they spend most of their time tucked away only emerging from the safety of these crevices for a short time in the morning and evening to eat.

Kamwe and Kwanza

Our pair of pancake tortoises are both three years old, They hatched in 2010 at Longleat Safari and Adventure Park in Wiltshire and arrived at Tilgate Nature Centre in 2012.

Kamwe and Kwanza can be found in the Discovery Room at the nature centre. They live in a vivarium, which literally means ‘place of life’. This simulates the dry, hot nature of their natural environment and it means we can get a good idea of how they would really live in the wild.

The duo can often be seen trying to hide amongst the rocks of the home but will always come out to eat their dinner which includes hay, specially created pellets and lots of leaves such as dandelion, clover, mint and trefoils.

Vulnerability

As well as their unique shell, pancake tortoises are also unusual in the number of eggs they lay. While most tortoises will lay clutches of 12 or more eggs this species will lay just one which gets safely buried in sand and takes up to six months to hatch.

This slow rate of reproduction, combined with loss of habitat to farming and their popularity in the pet trade, means wild pancake tortoises are listed as ‘Vulnerable’.

Kamwe and Kwanza are a small but important part of a co-ordinated captive breeding programme involving collections across Europe. The aim is to help boost the population of this fascinating, unusual and vulnerable species.

Come and visit us or go to www.tilgatenaturecentre.co.uk to find out more about Tilgate Nature Centre.