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African Spurred Tortoise

Encyclopedia » Statistics and Facts


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Testidines


Genera: Centrochelys

Specie: Centrochelys Sulcata



The spurred tortoise is native to the Sahara Desert and the Sahel.It exists in semi-arid grasslands, Savannahs and shrub lands. It is found in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria.

It is the only still existing specie in the genus Centrochely.

Its scientific name Sulcata means furrow in latin and refers to the furrows on its scale. In the arid regions the Sulcata excavates burrows in the ground to get to areas with higher moisture levels, and spends much of its day in the burrow. Its burrows average 30inches in depth, some also dig tunnels that can extend their burrows beyond 10 feet under the ground. They can also hibernate when the moisture level is too much.

They require large enclosures and warm temperatures with some moisture. They also prefer grassed lands or soft bedding. 

Their temperament is mild and this makes them frequent options for those who wish to keep Tortoises as pets.



Adult males can reach 33 inches long and weigh up to 105kg, with the female reaching 20 inches and 60kg. They grow from hatchlings to 3 inches quickly, reaching 6-10 inches within the 1st 2-3 years of life and reach maturity in 5 years.

It is the 3rd largest specie of Tortoise in the world and the largest land based Tortoise in the world. 

This site is also a challenge as people find it difficult to keep as a pet.


Average lifespan is 70 years. A Nigerian Tortoise in Oyo is said to have lived 344 years and died in October 2019, it was recognized as the world’s oldest living animal. 



Maturity is 5 years and mating is usually between Septembers through November. Males fight for breeding rights with the females and are vocal during the process. Sixty days after mating, the female begins to roam about for nesting sites once she sees a suitable nest she begins to excavate digging loose soil out of the earth, she may frequently urinate in the hole to soften the ground, the work of digging the nest may take up to five hours but duration is highly dependent on the nature of the soil and usually takes place when the environmental temperature is at least 27 °C.

once the nest reaches the required dimension the female begins laying her eggs one in every 3 minutes,  After the eggs are laid, the female fills in the nest, taking an hour or more to fully cover them all. Incubation should be 86 to 88 °F, and will take from 90 to 120 days.

NB:the eggs come in clutches and a clutch may contain up to 15-30 eggs and an average tortoise does this 2-5 times a year.


They are herbivores, their diet includes grasses and plants and they love the Hibiscus plant. Grasses account for 80% of their food intake and they avoid fruits and foods high in sugar. They are voracious eaters yet they can go weeks without food and water and can consume up 15% of their net weight in one feeding.

Moisture is key to their health, yet high a moisture vegetable like lettuce can be harmful to them. 


In looks the Spurred Tortoise resembles its homes (The Sahara and Sahel) with a sandy, ivory, or golden yellow skin. It has 2 or more large spurs on its rear legs. On its top shell, its scutes tint from tan to yellow at the center and are decorated by brown outlines. Its bottom shell is a tint from light tan to yellow. The skin of a Spurred Tortoise is very thick, with legs covered in spined projections, these are protection from predators and insulation keeping them cool or warm in relation to the weather. 


When scared, agitated or startled, they hiss loudly - the bigger the Tortoise, the stronger the hiss. They croak, grunt and whistle and are also vocal during mating.


They are prone to respiratory illnesses and need access to both moisture and sunlight in order to maintain body temperature and not overheat.


The Mbe (Igbo for Tortoise) as a group is seen as the wisest animal and used to convey many moral dictates in Igbo folktales. Its slow pace is regarded as patience and seen as virtue. It is also feared by many due to its association with rituals and sacrifices. In many places across Nigeria the Tortoise as a general group is a key component of rites and rituals.

Other behaviours: They are known to bask in the sun and like regular direct sunlight for bone growth. The males are particularly aggressive especially towards other males.




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