05/03/2019

​Pancake tortoises at Bristol Zoo Gardens on Pancake Day

You might think this is the perfect day for the pancake tortoises at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

You might think this is the perfect day for the pancake tortoises at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

But despite their name they cannot eat our traditional Shrove Tuesday treat as they live on a diet of leafy greens, sticky weed and dry grasses.

Pancake tortoises get their names because unlike many other tortoises, which have rounded shells, their shells are much flatter.

Reptiles’ keeper Laura Cosgrove said: “They are lovely animals. They all have their own personalities and are really inquisitive.”

There is a breeding pair of pancake tortoises on show at the Zoo. They live in the Zoo’s popular reptile house where their vivarium is kept at between 25 and 30°C during the day.

When they hatch they are only the size of a 50p piece and even when fully grown, they are no bigger than a saucer.

The collection at Bristol Zoo Gardens is very important because in the wild, African pancake tortoises are threatened by habitat loss and over-collection for the pet trade.

In 1996 they were classified as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, but more recently the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group has recommended a Critically Endangered classification. This has elevated the pancake tortoises into the top 50 most endangered tortoises in the world.

Pancake tortoises are found in the savannahs and rocky scrubland of Kenya and Tanzania. Their flattened shells allow them to hide from predators in rock crevices.

Bristol Zoo’s curator of reptiles and amphibians Tim Skelton manages the European studbook for this species.

Bristol Zoological Society, which operates Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the Zoo but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

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