Jul 30, 2014

Fur, Feathers & Scales - African Pancake Tortoise

Have you ever heard of a pancake tortoise?  I'm convinced they might be the cutest creature with scales.  These are not reptiles that I work with directly, like this lizard or this turtle, but my friend and coworker, Craig Hunter, does work with them.  Craig is our zoo's knowledgeable reptile and amphibian keeper.  He is also a talented photographer who shot all of these photos for us! 
Our zoo has four African pancake tortoises (not currently on exhibit), and they are the neatest things.  If you've ever held a tortoise or turtle, you know that they have hard, solid shells.  Pancake tortoises actually have flexible shells.  It's such a strange sensation to hold these tortoises and be able to feel them breathe--I was amazed!  Their shells are not solid, but have small openings between the underlying bony plates, allowing them to flatten slightly as they squeeze under rocks and into small crevices for protection.  In fact, rather than retreating into their shells, they will quickly run to find shelter to evade danger.

African pancake tortoises are pretty great climbers, and are considered to be the fastest tortoise. Their lighter, more flexible shell likely contributes to their speed.  They are found throughout Kenya and Tanzania and eat only vegetation.   

Because these tortoises are so flat, females usually only produce and lay one egg at a time, every six weeks during mating season.  Because of their low reproductive rate and collection for the pet trade, wild populations of African pancake tortoises are declining.  You can help them out by not ever buying one as a pet.

Aren't they great?!

You can check out more of Craig's photography on facebook, and be sure to follow him on instagram, too (@moriarty1984).

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