Home | Turtles & Tortoises | Breeding the Pancake Tortoise, Malacochersus tornieri, in captivity – Part 1

Breeding the Pancake Tortoise, Malacochersus tornieri, in captivity – Part 1

Pancake Tortoise

Recently I wrote about the care and natural history one of the world’s most unique turtles, the pancake tortoise. Today I would like to add a note about breeding this species in captivity. In addition to the personal satisfaction you will gain from such endeavors, your efforts stand to contribute to what little we know concerning this creature. This is especially important for those species, such as the pancake tortoise, that face threats to their continued existence in the wild.

Pancake tortoise breeding programs in both zoos and private collections are plagued by the low fertility rates that are common among captive individuals. The fertility question in this species in perplexing, as it otherwise adjusts well to captivity – captive hatched animals are usually vigorous, and longevities of over 25 years are documented. Stress, which often results in reduced fertilities and complete lack of breeding, seems not to be a major factor here. This is, therefore, is an area where hobbyists can make important contributions.

In my and other’s experience, some species respond well, in terms of increased fertility, to temperature, day-length and humidity fluctuations that mimic those occurring in the animal’s natural range. A study of the prevailing conditions within this tortoise’s natural range may provide some answers. For example, pancake tortoises in some areas aestivate (become dormant) during the hottest, driest times of the year. We know that many temperate turtle species, such as the box turtle, Terrepene carolina, exhibit decreased fertility if they are not give a hibernation period in captivity – perhaps some pancake tortoises require a hot, dry “season” followed by rains and cooler temperatures.
By creating captive conditions that are in tune with those of southeast Africa, you may meet with greater success.

As not all pancake tortoises aestivate (only those from certain parts of their range do so), it is very important that you determine, if possible, where your particular animals, or their parents, originated. More and more dealers and breeders are paying attention to their stock’s point of origin, so be sure to ask when you purchase or trade animals. This is a good rule to follow with all reptiles and amphibians – doing so will enable you to fine tune diets, heating, light cycles and other important processes that affect your pet’s health. Accurate locality data is also vital to the success of breeding programs. In some cases, mating same species animals from different parts of the range can have disastrous consequences. I am thinking here of a zoo-sponsored program that sought to reintroduce the ibex (a wild goat) to portions of its range in Europe. Ibex, all of the same species, were transported from mountain ranges in Italy, Spain and North Africa to suitable habitat in, I believe, northern Italy, and released. They adjusted well but females often gave birth in the dead of winter, and the young did not survive. It seemed that animals from different areas were distinct, genetically, and the resultant inter-breeding somehow disrupted the reproductive process. There are similarities among reptiles and amphibians – i.e. Carolina anoles, Anolis carolinensis, from south Florida cannot survive the occasional frosts that barely affect animals in the north of Florida. If you are serious about breeding animals and even possibly cooperating with conservation efforts, please do your utmost to determine locality data, and record it carefully.

Thanks to Adam Darrenkamp of the Lancaster, PA Herpetological Society for the picture.
Check out The Natural History and Captive Husbandry of the Pancake Tortoise for more information on these awesome tortoises.
Check back in Monday for the rest of Breeding Pancake Tortoises

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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