Animals & Attractions

Location in the zoo

We are currently home to a small number of pancake tortoises. They can be seen in our Wee Beasties exhibit.

In the wild

The pancake tortoise (Malacochersus tornieri) is an East African species native to southern Kenya and northern and eastern Tanzania. They are found in savannahs and rocky scrubland in isolated colonies and eat dry grasses, wild flowers and other vegetation.

Pancake tortoise have a brown shell with vibrant yellow marking which is great for camouflaging itself when it goes on foraging missions.

They are mainly active during the morning or in the late afternoon and early evening. Although, the pancake tortoise is a fast and agile climber, it is rarely found far from its rocky home so that, if disturbed, it can make a dash for the nearest rock crevice.

Pancake tortoise are unique in shape compared to other tortoises. Their shell is unusually thin, flat, and flexible, helping make them the fastest tortoise species. This shell allows them to flee and squeeze into narrow rock crevices in times of danger.

The female tortoise lays one egg up to four times in a year and the baby tortoises are independent as soon as they hatch which means they do not receive any parental care.

This species is classified as vulnerable in the wild and are managed as part of a European breeding programme which RZSS Edinburgh Zoo takes part in.

One of the greatest threats to wild populations is over-collection for the pet trade. They are highly sought after due to their unusual appearance and behaviour. This is because populations gathered for the pet trade consist of juveniles which isolates the remaining tortoises left in the wild.

The species is also threatened by continued habitat destruction with wild populations of pancake tortoises losing their habitat to agricultural developments and overgrazing of domestic cattle and goats.

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