Monday, 20 January 2014

Wildlife and Nature Pictures - Leopard Tortoise

Africa is Not Only About the Big Five -Wildlife on a Smaller Scale

Over the recent months with my trips into South Africa's Kruger National Park, I have experienced  an incredible amount and variety of South Africa wildlife. However, one thing I have noticed on numerous occasions and somewhat more than most,  is one of South Africa's smaller wildlife species, although small it is a very interesting subject to study and take pictures/photographs of.  I'm talking about the 'Leopard Tortoise' (Stigmochelys pardalis). This long living species (typically between 80 - 100 years) is a select member of an exclusive club known in South Africa as the 'Little Five' .

As most of us know, traditionally the 'Big Five' in Africa consists of  the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino (Black or White).  How many of us on visits to Africa and its national parks have actually ticked off the 'Little Five'  ? - not many I would hazard a guess, me included. The 'Little Five' consists of  the Leopard Tortoise, Elephant Shrew, Buffalo Weaver, Lionant and finally the Rhino Beetle, look them up for yourselves and keep an eye out for them next time you visit.

Back to my 'Leopard Tortoise'.  While I was sat there for a few minutes watching this Leopard Tortoise drinking water from this pool under the hot African sun, albeit it was still only 7:45am and temperatures were well into the thirties,  I wondered at this most ancient of wildlife species, generally solitary, a herbivore (plant eater) and one of the largest species of tortoise in the world, typically reaching 450mm long and weighing in at a hefty 20kg. I thought then that mother nature has truly allowed this and similar reptile  species to adapt over the millennia, as tortoises are one of the oldest of reptile groups and have been around for over 200 million years.   

I came to think of its beautifully patterned and unusual  shell called a 'carapace'  and one very interesting thing about the Leopard Tortoise and tortoises in general, it is the way they get rid of their waste products.  It is a common belief that tortoises get most of their water from the food they consume this in fact is not correct and they need regular water supplies.

As tortoises are found indeed in more arid areas, it has itself adapted and is able to excrete and urinate at the same time should it require, ridding the body of its waste products via urine and also what we call uric acid, (soft  semi solid white deposits). The latter can be excreted by, in this instance the Leopard Tortoise using substantially less water than if they were to urinate. Thus eliminating their waste products with far greater water conservation and not waste their valuable bodily fluids ie.. water. Indeed tortoises are normally programmed to only urinate when water replenishment is available. 

Much of the water drunk by tortoises is stored in its 'cloaca bursa' (anal pouch) this serves as a 'water reserve' and which amongst other things tortoises can also use this anal sac as a 'defence' mechanism. This is why its always best NOT to pick up tortoises, certainly in the wild as they may loose (eject in defence) its 'water supply' it has stored in its 'cloaca' that they would normally have used to 'survive'  the dryer months. 

African Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) one of the worlds largest species of Tortoise
Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) drinking water
Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) replenishing its 'cloaca bursa'

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