The leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is a large and attractively marked tortoise found in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the southern Cape. It is the only member of the genus Stigmochelys, although in the past it was commonly placed in Geochelone. This turtle is a grazing species that favors semi-arid, thorny to grassland habitats. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or anteater holes. Leopard tortoises do not dig other than to make nests in which to lay eggs. Not surprisingly, given its propensity for grassland habitats, it grazes extensively upon mixed grasses. It also favors succulents and thistles.
The leopard tortoise is the second largest tortoise native to Africa. Only the African spurred tortoise is larger. Two subspecies are generally recognized. Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki is the most common species in the pet trade. It has a large natural range resulting in geographic variations in size, color and temperature tolerance. Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis is from South Africa and Namibia. S. p. pardalis can be distinguished from S. p. babcocki as it is generally darker in color, may not be as high domed and generally grows larger.
Without knowing the origin of a leopard tortoise, it is difficult to distinguish adults of the two species due to the geographic variations of S. p. babcocki. Hatchling tortoises of each species are generally distinguished based on the number of dark spots on each scute. S. p. babcocki generally have one black dot or no dots, while S. p. pardalis generally have two black dots on each scute.
It is possible additional species of leopard tortoises will be described. There is a giant variation native to Ethiopia and Somalia, which is currently classified as S. p. babcocki.