Leopard Tortoise Lifespan | How Long Do They Live In Captivity?

How Long Do Leopard Tortoises Live In Captivity?

The lifespan of a leopard tortoise is one of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of having one as a pet. The leopard tortoise along with some other species of tortoises are some of the few animal species that have a longer lifespan than humans. This begs the question: How long do leopard tortoises live? 

The average lifespan of the leopard tortoise is about 80-100 years in captivity. In the wild, the expected lifespan is similar, as the leopard tortoise has few natural predators in its natural habitat. 

The leopard tortoise is such a beautiful and grand creature, but its long life and large size aren’t for everyone. Even if you want a leopard tortoise your kids that you might have to will it to might not be as thrilled about it. That said, for many people, a leopard tortoise can be a lifelong pet that brings you a lot of joy. 

Of course, probably the biggest consideration you will have to think hard about is the extremely long lifespan of the leopard tortoise. In addition, you will also need to consider their large size and housing needs as well.

Why Do Leopard Tortoises Have Such Long Lifespans?

We touched on this in the introduction: there aren’t many predators out there capable of eating a mature leopard tortoise. Here’s more about that and other factors that add to this tortoise’s longevity: 

  • Slow metabolism.  A widely-held belief links the tortoise’s slow metabolism to its long life. A slower metabolism means they burn less energy, and that leads to fewer free radical cells being created.  But this theory has yet to be embraced fully by the scientific community. (Source: The Guardian)
  • Few predators.  The tortoise’s hard shell makes it a challenge to eat a mature tortoise, but young ones that have not had the time to build up their shells do fall prey to a variety of predators.
  • Stress-free life.  Another benefit of a slow metabolism is that the tortoise can survive for long periods of time without food or water. If you are not worried about where your next meal is coming from, and you are not worried about being someone else’s next meal, your life would be stress-free too.
  • Hibernation.  When the weather turns cold, and the food supply dwindles, the leopard tortoise can find a hole, crawl in and go to sleep until it warms up again.  They are cold-blooded and need a warm environment to survive, but since they can hibernate, their range can and does cover a wider territory, including the African highlands.

Leopard Tortoise Lifespan Compared To Other Pets

Siamese Fighting Fish 3-5 Years
Guinea Pig 4-8 Years
Budgie 5-10 Years
German Shepard 9-13 Years
Goldfish 10-15 Years
Potbellied pig 12-15 Years
Quarter Horse 25-35 Years
Pancake Tortoise 30-40 Years 
Grey Parrot 40-60 Years
Leopard Tortoise 80-120 Years

What Impacts A Leopard Tortoise’s Lifespan In Captivity?

Here are the basic how-tos for caring for a leopard tortoise, should you decide to take the plunge (and commit to 80+ years of tortoise care!)

Habitat Can Affect Leopard Tortoise Lifespan

The best place to keep a leopard tortoise is outdoors, where they can get direct sunlight. The temperature is important, though, and lows should be above 50 degrees (F) and the highs at least in the 70’s.  If the outdoor temperatures are not in this range, the leopard tortoise can be kept indoors, where you can keep their enclosure between 70 (F) and 90 (F) and dry.

If you plan on keeping a leopard tortoise in a cage, pen, or tank, it needs to be at least 50 square feet. You will also want to give your tortoise a natural substrate like grass, potting soil, or bare earth.  A female leopard tortoise will dig in the soil to lay her eggs. 

In many areas, people are able to keep their leopard tortoise outside during the warmer months of the year. When winter approaches they will often have a custom-built enclosure that ensures proper temperatures. Leopard tortoises do not do well in areas with a lot of rain. So you will need a large spot where they can avoid getting wet. 

Heating and Lighting Needs

Provide your leopard tortoise with at least one warm spot of 95 (F) and some shaded hiding spots too. A leopard tortoise needs a source of UV light, which is important for absorbing calcium.  Natural sunlight is the best source of UV light, but there are special UVB light bulbs you can buy at pet stores. 

Diet and Water

In captivity, they should have a strict vegetarian diet based on timothy grass and hay.  They also like collard greens, dandelion greens, and carrots.  Remember that they are native to Africa, and their diet needs to be consistent with the vegetation of the savannah.  

Avoid plants that are high in oxalates like kale, squash, and celery. The oxalic acid in these foods can build up in the kidney and cause digestive problems. You should also provide fresh water daily. Diet is one of the biggest factors that can affect the lifespan of a leopard tortoise. This is why I have a whole article on the ideal diet for a leopard tortoise here

Bathing and Veterinary Visits

Keep clean water accessible and change it often. Your tortoise will crawl into the water for a variety of reasons, but they will invariably defecate in their water like all reptiles. 

Finding a veterinarian that is familiar with reptile health issues is important, and as with any pet, you will want to take your leopard tortoise in for a check-up on an annual basis.  

You should look for signs of disease or ill health like a discharge around the nose, a cough (yes, they will cough), lethargy, or loss of appetite.  These are signs that you should go see the vet immediately and might need to make a change in their care.

Leopard Tortoise Lifespan: Common Health Issues To Watch Out For

As with any animal, there are some common issues you’ll find with a leopard tortoise, either in captivity or in the wild. The most common diseases of a leopard tortoise are:

  • Shell rot – this is caused by moisture or humidity.  Remember, in the wild, they avoid the humid forests of their native Africa.  They also can die from respiratory infections, which again come from high humidity.
  • Metabolic bone disease – this is also a common ailment caused by poor nutrition and imbalances in mineral and vitamin intake.  They are wild animals and thrive in sunshine and wide-open spaces where they can access the vitamins and minerals their bodies crave.  
  • Parasites – In 2000, the United States banned the import of wild-caught Leopard Tortoise because of a tick that carried an infectious disease called heartwater that posed a significant threat to the US livestock market.   

What is the Lifespan of A Leopard Tortoise In The Wild?

An African Leopard Tortoise can live to be 50-100 years old in the wild. This depends on the dangers they face throughout their lifetime and if they can naturally survive that long without being eaten or killed. 

Different factors will cause the leopard tortoise’s lifespan to change, depending on where they live and if they are being cared for by humans or fending for themselves. 

Here are some dangers that an African Leopard Tortoise might face:

  • Being eaten – Larger animals find tortoises very appealing to their palate, as well as village locals where they live. Villagers in their natural habitats often hunt them.
  • Starvation – Sometimes, droughts create a lack of greenery for tortoises to eat. Because tortoises predominantly eat grass and succulents, they rely on moist climates to provide them with enough food sources. 
  • Killed by being run over – If a tortoise lives near humans, they are at risk of getting run over by automobiles. 
  • Taken into captivity – When animals are taken into captivity, their life expectancy can go down because of poor living conditions or the inability to live life the way they were made to live it. 
  • Illness – Illnesses are always a risk that can shorten the life of a wild animal.

Leopard Tortoise Survival

An African Leopard Tortoise is not the most maternal of animals, and after they lay their eggs (about 5-10 clutches), they abandon them without looking back.

This allows them to live longer because they are not risking their lives to protect their young.

When these exotic animals are born, they are completely on their own. This puts them in danger of outside creatures and environmental causes hurting them or even killing them.

However, leopard tortoises have instincts that they were born with that help them survive in the wild from the day they are born. 

One huge protection that they are born with is the safety of their shell. Tortoises use their shell to retreat when they feel unsafe or in danger of their life.

The ability to hide in their shell is invaluable because their shells are very strong, and predators will have difficulty breaking through and harming the tortoise. 

The Leopard Tortoise Will Likely Out Live Their Owners

Leopard tortoises have very long lifespans. A leopard tortoise can be a distinct and unique pet that is very rewarding. But maybe not for a beginner or if you are hesitant about such a long commitment.

If you are ready for the joy of leopard tortoise ownership, remember to include a clause in your will because, with proper care, it will outlive you. Just make sure you have someone lined up to care for your tortoise after you. 

For more information on the leopard tortoise check out my complete leopard tortoise care guide here

Recent Posts