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Leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) by Maree  Clarkson

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Leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) by 

Brown Stabilo Finepoint ink sketch and W&N in my Moleskine 200gsm Nature Journal.

Yesterday was the first time in about 6 weeks that Torti surfaced from her semi-hibernation state and took a stroll around the garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa). Torti is my Leopard or Mountain Tortoise whom we rescued, as she was destined for the pot.

Southern Africa is very fortunate to have the largest variety of animals in the world. It is home to more than 800 bird species, 150 mammal species, about 50 snake and lizard species, 11 tortoise species and thousands of invertebrate animals like insects and arachnids.

South Africa is also home to the largest land-based mammal (the Elephant), the tallest (the Giraffe), the fastest (the Cheetah), the smallest (“dwergskeerbek”-mouse), the largest non-flying bird (the Ostrich) and the largest flying bird (the Kori bustard).

Afrikaans – Bergskilpad

The Mountain tortoise inhabits a wide range of habitats, from dry Bushveld to moister coastal plains and is the most widely distributed and also the biggest of the 12 species of land tortoise found in Southern Africa. It is believed to take its name ‘mountain’ tortoise from its size rather than its habitat. (‘Leopard’ tortoise comes from the black and yellow blotched patterns on its high-domed carapace.)

The background colour of carapace yellow, and is blotched and streaked in black, most vividly in younger specimens; older animals may appear almost uniform deep brown. The plastron is straw-coloured with irregular black markings. Length 30-60cm; weight 8 – 20kg.

Though not averse to gnawing on an old bone, the mountain tortoise is mostly vegetarian, feeding on a variety of plant matter, including grass shoots, succulents such as cotyledons, fungi and fruit.

Adults usually weigh from 10-15 kg, but some specimens of over 40 kg have been recorded in the Eastern Cape.

  1. Within my house of patterned horn
    I sleep in such a bed
    As men may keep before they’re born
    And after when they’re dead.
    Sticks and stones may break their bones,
    And words may make them bleed;
    There is not one of them who owns
    An armour to his need.
    Tougher than hide or lozenged bark,
    Snow-storm and thunder proof,
    And quick with sun, and thick with dark,
    Is this my darling roof.
    Men’s troubled dreams of death and birth
    Puls mother-o’-pearl to black;
    I bear the rainbow bubble Earth
    Square on my scornful back.


I am a watercolorist living on my little piece of African soil in Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa. The inspiration for my art is the wonderfully rich variety of Fauna and Flora to be found throughout this beautiful country.
“There is a fine line between dreams and reality; it’s up to you to draw it.”

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  • Elizabeth Kendall
    Elizabeth Kendallover 3 years ago

    Hi Torti!! Welcome back! So adorable Maree! A lovely sketch!

  • Torti says thanks Liz!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • almaalice
    almaaliceover 3 years ago

    As a small child money was tight after the war, the men were barely able to feed their families on their return let alone animals so pets were more or less a no no. However, I was allowed a tortoise and I loved it. Imagine my heartbreak when someone left the gate open and it ‘ran away’. Lovely to know that Torti has returned. Your description of the African wildlife makes my heart ache, lucky you, wonderful that you enjoy and appreciate it so much. Alma xxx

  • I sometimes seem to have no choice regarding the wildlife Alma, they either just pitch up at my doorstep or it is something that has to be rescued. These tortoise are always at risk of being caught by the locals for Muti (traditional medicine) or the pot. Thanks for the fav, really appreciate it!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • AuntDot
    AuntDotover 3 years ago

    What a cute tortoise with those leopard spots! How nice of you to rescue her and give her a safe home! I envy you all your wonderful wildlife so near your home!

  • Thanks Dot. I’d much rather she be free, roaming the country side, and every spring I threaten to release her and then I think of the veld fires and change my mind!

    – Maree Clarkson

  • TokikoAnderson
    TokikoAndersonover 3 years ago

    Why everyone so in hurry?(tortoise speaking)

  • Ha ha! Thanks for the visit Tokiko!

    – Maree Clarkson

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