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African pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri)

African pancake tortoise
African pancake tortoise

Personal Information
African pancake tortoises are so named for their remarkably malleable shell, which allows them to wedge themselves between rocks so that no predator can pry them from their crevice-made-shelters. At the Seneca Park Zoo there are two African pancake tortoises, one male and one female. Both were born in 1983 and arrived at the Zoo in 1986.

Status in the Wild
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List status: Vulnerable. The African pancake tortoises are popular in the pet trade, which has made them considerably vulnerable in the wild. Habitat loss in Africa combined with a slow reproductive rate make this species’ recovery difficult.

These tortoises inhabit isolated locations in eastern Africa, from Kenya to Tanzania. The habitat they prefer is areas of small hills with rocky outcropping in arid thornbrush.

African pancake tortoises are strictly herbivorous. They eat dry grasses, fallen fruits and available vegetation.

  • Unlike most tortoises that sport a heavy domed shell, the African pancake tortoise relies on its speed and flattened shape to outrun and hide from its predators.
  • The average size of an African pancake tortoise is six to seven inches long and one inch thick.
  • To lock itself into a protective crevice, the African pancake tortoise will take in a large quantity of air to expand its flexible shell to fit the space between the rocks.
  • African pancake tortoises have one or two clutches of eggs per year, of one to four eggs each clutch.