Today (23 May) is World Turtle (lives in the sea) / Tortoise (lives on land) Day. The purpose of this day is accentuate the serious situation turtles and tortoises face and to increase the knowledge of these animals so as to to protect them from extinction. We are privileged to have quite a lot of tortoises in the Stilbaai area – it is most probably less than what it used to be – and they are quite special animals.
There is 13 species of tortoise in South Africa and eight of these are found in the Western Cape alone! According to a recent article in the local newspaper, Suid-Kaap Forum, two of the rarest tortoises can be found only in our area, namely the ‘Padloper‘ (it grows no bigger than 10cm and weighs about 100g) and the ‘Rooipens‘ or ‘Ploegskaar‘.
The world’s smallest tortoise, the ‘Suidelike Klipskilpad‘ (loosely translated as southern rock tortoise) as well as Africa’s second biggest land tortoise (the Leopard Tortoise) that can weigh up to 20kg and can become older than 70 years, can be found in the Western Cape. The Western Cape is also the only place in the world where you will find the world’s rarest tortoise, the ‘suurpootjie‘. This tortoise can be recognised by its yellow stars on the black shell and is endangered as its habitat, alluvial fynbos soil, is being destroyed.
Apparently it is not uncommon to see tortoises in Stilbaai in winter as the ‘coastal’ tortoises are still active during winter while the inland species, are inactive.
They say you can distinguish a ‘rooipensie‘ by its red tummy (it also has a shield at its throat) while the shells of ‘padlopertjies‘ are quite smooth.
Tortoises have been on earth since the days of the dinosaurs and still look like they did 220 million years ago! One can, however, not keep them as ‘pets’ and requires a special permit to keep them.