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African (Sulcata) Spurred Tortoise

African (Sulcata) Spurred Tortoise
Geochelone sulcata


Testudinidae, the tortoise family.

Conservation Status:

IUCN Vulnerable.


The Sahara desert and Sahel region of northern Africa.

African (Sulcata) Spurred Tortoise


Dry steppes and semi-deserts.


Many African villages regard tortoises as mediators between man and his ancestors. They are also credited with the virtues of happiness, fertility and longevity.

These tortoises have moderately large triangular heads with doubly-hooked upper jaws, whose edges have tooth-like projections. Their broad, flattened carapaces are deeply notched at the neck and are uniformly yellowish or brownish. The gulars in males are strongly forked, and their heads & limbs are well protected with thick scales and horny plates on their forelegs. They are the largest mainland tortoises, and females are smaller than males. “Sulcata” means “deep parallel furrows” or grooves (on the shells), while “Spurred” refers to the 2-3 strong spurs on each side of their tails.

To avoid moisture loss, they have highly impermeable skin and also dig shallow burrows in the ground. They can run quite well and get excited and run around just before it rains, but become inactive during very hot or cold weather. They communicate through croaks, grunts and whistles.

They graze on grass and shrubs, especially succulents, and can obtain sufficient moisture from their diet. However, when sufficient water is available, they can drink up to 15% of their weight. Adults are preyed on by various carnivores and juveniles by raptors.

Breeding occurs during the rainy season and females lay and bury up to 33 eggs, which take 80-136 days to incubate, depending upon temperature.

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