Scientific Name

Geochelone sulcata

Species Survival Plan



Hot, arid environments; desert fringes to dry savannahs




Grass, plants, flowers, some insects and grubs

Originally Native To

Southern Sahara desert including the countries of Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia


Approximately 12 inches


Male 150 - 200 lb.
Female 80 - 130 lb.


Third-largest land tortoise; broad, oval, flattened carapaces that are brown to yellow in color; legs are covered in spurs

Gestation Period

88 days


15 - 30 eggs

Birth Season

Fall months


Wild ?
Captivity 60 - 80 years

Social Behavior

Solitary, only meet up to breed



Relatively little is known about African spurred tortoises in the wild due to lack of field research. They are solitary creatures that live in some of the harshest regions of Africa.

It is the third-largest tortoise species in the world after the Galapagos and Aldabra species, but it is the largest mainland tortoise. The largest African spurred tortoise on record was 232 pounds. While these tortoises are popular pets, they do grow quickly and can be difficult to manage as adults. 

In the wild, they feed on grasses, flowers, weeds, and cacti. In captivity, they are voracious eaters and have a similar diet with the addition of leafy greens. To withstand extreme heat (up to 120 degrees in the wild) and cold, they will dig elaborate tunnels with dens up to 10 feet deep.

African spurred tortoises don’t usually drink water. In order for these tortoises to stay hydrated, they soak in any water they can find. Drinking too much water can actually make them sick.

These tortoises also act like bulldozers. If they can see through an object, they will try and plow through it and are usually pretty successful. They are curious, intelligent animals with lively personalities, especially when young.

Turtles and tortoises are a very old group of reptiles, going back about 220 million years. Of all the animals with backbones, turtles are the only ones that also have a shell, made up of 59-61 bones covered by plates called scutes, which are made of keratin like our fingernails.

The turtle cannot crawl out of it because the shell is permanently attached to the spine and the rib cage. The shell’s top is called the carapace, and the bottom is the plastron. Turtles can feel pressure and pain through their shells, just as you can feel pressure through your fingernails.

Turtle or tortoise? It depends on who you ask or where you are in the world, but most people recognize tortoises as terrestrial or land-loving with stubby feet (better for digging than swimming) and a heavy, dome-shaped carapace. Aquatic and semiaquatic turtles are known as just that, turtles. Turtles tend to have more webbed feet (but not always) and their shells are more flat and streamlined.

At Fossil Rim, this tortoise lives at the Children's Animal Center.



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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.