The Leopard Tortoise Stigmochekys pardalis is the second largest African mainland tortoise (the African Spurred Tortoise is larger) and fourth largest in the world living in semi arid thorny grassland areas. It is not unusual to find specimens 35 to 45cm in length and weighing over 15kg. Their carapace (which is the name given to their shells) is a high domed or pyramid shape and are attractively marked which is usually a creamy yellowy colour with black blotches or stripes each one having it’s own unique identity.
Like most tortoises, they can retract their head and feet into their shell which often results in them making a hissing sound (which usually is air being expelled from their lungs) in defense when threatened. Also like all tortoises and turtles, their mouth is a "beak". The rear legs are very trunk-like the front legs are almost paddle shaped and "pigeon-toed" with a row of small "nails". They can move very fast on these legs, and manoeuvre over rocky terrain easily, they can also climb and can go underwater for up to 10 minutes. (Snorkelling anyone?).
Younger animals have a surprising ability to climb, as their toenails provide a very secure grip on wood, concrete, and rough stone surfaces. Small Leopard Tortoises (under 6 inches in length) have been observed climbing vertically up and over a 12 inch high wooden board intended to be an enclosure boundary.