The African spurred tortoise, Centrochelys sulcata, is the largest continental tortoise and can live for one hundred years. It is on the verge of extinction in several countries due to desertification and overgrazing.
Sauropsida, Testudines, Testudinidae
from 50 to more than 100 years
80 cm long; up to 100 kg for males and 60 kg for females
3 to 4 months, 15 to 30 eggs
savannahs, sandy semi-desert areas
plants, roots, carrion, insects
Africa, from Mauritania to Ethiopia
Way of life
Using its powerful legs, the African spurred tortoise digs burrows of several metres in length, in which it shelters during high temperatures or cold nights.
The female lays her eggs in the sand at a depth of around thirty centimetres. The gender of the baby tortoise depends on the temperature that the eggs are exposed to at the beginning of incubation: males tend to hatch when it is below 28°C while females tend to hatch when it is above 30°C. When the young tortoises hatch, they weigh around 30 grams and measure 4.5 cm at the most.
It is the third-largest species of tortoise in the world, after the Aldabra giant tortoise and the Galápagos tortoise! It is called the African spurred tortoise because the male, who is much larger than the female, has spurs in front of the plastron (underside of the shell). During the breeding season, these claw-like spurs are used to fight rivals as they try to reach each other's backs.
The light colour of its shell means that it is difficult to spot in the sandy and semi-desert areas that it likes to inhabit.
A common species in sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritania to Ethiopia, until the mid-20th century, today it is threatened by a combination of factors. Local and international trade, pollution, overgrazing by domesticated herbivores, the urbanisation of the outskirts of cities such as Dakar or Khartoum and the desertification of its natural environment are inexorably leading to the decline of its range.
Awareness campaigns and conservation programmes, as well as releases into their natural habitat, particularly in Senegal, have been implemented. While some nomadic tribes hunt it for its meat, others view it as a symbol of longevity and fertility which allows them to communicate with their ancestors.