My visit with the Ethiopian Leopard tortoises in Addis Ababa

biochemnerd808

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While traveling to Ethiopia last week too adopt our daughter, we took a little detour to the "Lucy Cafe" in Addis Ababa to have lunch, and to visit the beautiful Ethiopian leopard tortoises that live in the field behind the restaurant. The Amharic word for tortoise is, by the way, pronounced "Ellie"...

That's no sulcata... it's one of 3 XXL Ethiopian leopard tortoises!
The tortoises were housed in a nice large field, edged with wrought iron fencing embedded in cement. A few busts of past Ethiopian Emperors stood here and there. They had several water containers, as well as shade huts. Trees partially shaded the enclosure, and the weather was in the mid 80s that day.

You can see 2 of the 3 leopard torts here. Note the geraniums, which grow all over Addis

Nice shade huts. There were a few pumpkin rinds lying around there as well.
Here is the 'prettiest' of the 3 leopard tortoises. The pattern was the most distinct on this one's shell, but it wasn't quite as large as the really old one. I would guess this one was still about 20"+ long though.

Grazing on grass




To one side of the outdoor enclosure, there was a big pile of dried grass and yard trimmings, including geraniums, and some other flowers. One of the tortoises was "hiding" in one side of the pile. This one was probably 25" long, possibly a little more.

This one was larger than the 'pretty' one above, but also a little pyramided

I noticed there were calla lilies in the pile - which I didn't realize were safe for tortoises.

Ethiopian weather varies widely from region to region, but it should be noted that it rains extensively between August and October. During this time, the countryside greens up, the soil is very saturated and muddy, and the air is very humid and warm. This is also the season during which baby leopard tortoises hatch here. Following the rainy season, the weather is hot and muggy for several months, and then transitions to hot and dry, until the next rainy season. We were in Ethiopia right after the rainy season (though this year, some regions didn't get enough rain, which is expected to cause problems for the population). Plants and flowers in Addis were blooming lushly:


Finally, here is the really large Ethiopian leopard tortoise that we saw. At first sight, it resembles a sulcata, since the shell is so worn. If you look closely though, you will see the black leopard spots. This big guy was larger than 30" in my rough estimation, and still showed signs of growing. I'd be curious to know how much this tortoise weighs.







I very naughtily reached over the fence to take a picture of my hand in relation to the scutes. Otherwise it is hard to imagine the size of this big dude:



A close-up of his ancient face.

This one was friendly - he followed me all around the edge of the enclosure

The 'poop spot' was right by the water container, apparently. I'm sure the tortoises would have loved a wallow, but that may be problematic in a country where water can be scarce, and mosquito larvae pose an issue.

I was hoping to see some tortoises in the wild as well, but there was no opportunity to look for them. I did take note of the tortoise safe plants I recognized in the fields and ditches as we drove:
-mallow (both the low growing kind, and the taller marsh mallow)
-stinging nettle
-grasses (many different kinds)
-plantain weed (giant broadleaf plantain, as well as the narrow leafed variety)
-geranium (grows so profusely, it forms 6ft tall hedges!)
-purple morning glory/ white vetch
-collard greens (both wild and cultivated)
-kale (both wild and cultivated)
-hedge mustard
-thistle (some varieties I recognize, plus some XXL varieties I hadn't seen before)
-evening primrose (LOTS of it in the fields)
-hollyhock
-sugar cane
-sedum (both the small low growing kinds, and the taller varieties
-hibiscus (many different kinds)
-aloe (the small kind as well as the kind that resembles the century plant in CA - some were huge, may have been agave)
-opuntia and other paddle-style cacti
-yucca (some were 30ft tall)
There were many other low bushes and plants we saw goats eating that are probably also tortoise safe, but I didn't know their names.

Above: Amharic sign telling people who visit the tortoises to stay off the grass.

It was so fun for me to see these Ethiopian leopards, for one because they don't (officially) exist anywhere else in the world (I hear rumors of a breeding program in Switzerland?). It was amazing to see just how big this subspecies gets, and I've heard of even larger ones.

One thing that was a little sad to me was seeing 'cow bells' in the marketplace in Addis that had crudely been made out of tortoise shells by cracking them open, drilling a hole to feed a rope through, and hanging a piece of bone or hard wood inside. Here's a pic I took with the vendor's permission. I'd be interested to find out what the other species are that are in this pile. @Tom?



I know that it is not uncommon for tortoises to be collected and eaten, so it does make sense that the shell would also be used for a purpose. This still makes me sad, and I just hope that not too many are killed.

Above: Close-up of one of the bells made from a juvenile leopard tortoise.

(For the record, I only LOOKED at those tortoise shell bells, I didn't not buy any - would have been illegal to take out of the country, and also, would have supported something I don't agree with).


The 'pretty' leo decided to come investigate what this "ferengi" (what Ethiopians call us) was up to.

What a beautiful country Ethiopia is... we have fallen in love, and surely will return as often as we can in years to come! If you happen to be there, be sure to have lunch at the Lucy Cafe so you can also visit the tortoises that live behind it!

(PS: for those of you who asked, I'll post a few pics of us with our daughter in the Off Topic Chit Chat area later today)
 

Alaskamike

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Glad your trip went as planned. Ethiopia can indeed be beautiful. Thanks for the photos of the Leopards. In the mature ones , you can see the close genetic link to sulcatas. So many similarities.

Love adoption stories. Two of my kids came by that route.
Good fortune to your family.
 

Tom

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Thanks for the pics and all the details. Amazing stuff.

I'm pretty sure calla lilies are not safe for them to eat.
 

tortadise

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Those other species include Hingebacks, a really nice looking one at that.

Thanks for letting us be virtual world travelers. I hope your adoption is moving forward as planned. Thanks. Will
Yes Indeed. Very rare to see textbook belliana belliana like that. To bad it's just the shell. But still spectacular.
 

wellington

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Wow, what a fantastic trip it seems you had/are having. The great tortoises and a beautiful daughter too. It is sad the tortoise bells. Wish they were only made from tortoises that were already dead, but I doubt it:(
Calla Lillie's are on the do not feed list. I think morning glories too. Thanks for all the info and pics. Would love to have a leopard get that big. Have a great rest of your trip if your still that, I think you are. And again, congrats on your beautiful daughter
 

tortadise

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While traveling to Ethiopia last week too adopt our daughter, we took a little detour to the "Lucy Cafe" in Addis Ababa to have lunch, and to visit the beautiful Ethiopian leopard tortoises that live in the field behind the restaurant. The Amharic word for tortoise is, by the way, pronounced "Ellie"...

That's no sulcata... it's one of 3 XXL Ethiopian leopard tortoises!
The tortoises were housed in a nice large field, edged with wrought iron fencing embedded in cement. A few busts of past Ethiopian Emperors stood here and there. They had several water containers, as well as shade huts. Trees partially shaded the enclosure, and the weather was in the mid 80s that day.

You can see 2 of the 3 leopard torts here. Note the geraniums, which grow all over Addis

Nice shade huts. There were a few pumpkin rinds lying around there as well.
Here is the 'prettiest' of the 3 leopard tortoises. The pattern was the most distinct on this one's shell, but it wasn't quite as large as the really old one. I would guess this one was still about 20"+ long though.

Grazing on grass




To one side of the outdoor enclosure, there was a big pile of dried grass and yard trimmings, including geraniums, and some other flowers. One of the tortoises was "hiding" in one side of the pile. This one was probably 25" long, possibly a little more.

This one was larger than the 'pretty' one above, but also a little pyramided

I noticed there were calla lilies in the pile - which I didn't realize were safe for tortoises.

Ethiopian weather varies widely from region to region, but it should be noted that it rains extensively between August and October. During this time, the countryside greens up, the soil is very saturated and muddy, and the air is very humid and warm. This is also the season during which baby leopard tortoises hatch here. Following the rainy season, the weather is hot and muggy for several months, and then transitions to hot and dry, until the next rainy season. We were in Ethiopia right after the rainy season (though this year, some regions didn't get enough rain, which is expected to cause problems for the population). Plants and flowers in Addis were blooming lushly:


Finally, here is the really large Ethiopian leopard tortoise that we saw. At first sight, it resembles a sulcata, since the shell is so worn. If you look closely though, you will see the black leopard spots. This big guy was larger than 30" in my rough estimation, and still showed signs of growing. I'd be curious to know how much this tortoise weighs.







I very naughtily reached over the fence to take a picture of my hand in relation to the scutes. Otherwise it is hard to imagine the size of this big dude:



A close-up of his ancient face.

This one was friendly - he followed me all around the edge of the enclosure

The 'poop spot' was right by the water container, apparently. I'm sure the tortoises would have loved a wallow, but that may be problematic in a country where water can be scarce, and mosquito larvae pose an issue.

I was hoping to see some tortoises in the wild as well, but there was no opportunity to look for them. I did take note of the tortoise safe plants I recognized in the fields and ditches as we drove:
-mallow (both the low growing kind, and the taller marsh mallow)
-stinging nettle
-grasses (many different kinds)
-plantain weed (giant broadleaf plantain, as well as the narrow leafed variety)
-geranium (grows so profusely, it forms 6ft tall hedges!)
-purple morning glory/ white vetch
-collard greens (both wild and cultivated)
-kale (both wild and cultivated)
-hedge mustard
-thistle (some varieties I recognize, plus some XXL varieties I hadn't seen before)
-evening primrose (LOTS of it in the fields)
-hollyhock
-sugar cane
-sedum (both the small low growing kinds, and the taller varieties
-hibiscus (many different kinds)
-aloe (the small kind as well as the kind that resembles the century plant in CA - some were huge, may have been agave)
-opuntia and other paddle-style cacti
-yucca (some were 30ft tall)
There were many other low bushes and plants we saw goats eating that are probably also tortoise safe, but I didn't know their names.

Above: Amharic sign telling people who visit the tortoises to stay off the grass.

It was so fun for me to see these Ethiopian leopards, for one because they don't (officially) exist anywhere else in the world (I hear rumors of a breeding program in Switzerland?). It was amazing to see just how big this subspecies gets, and I've heard of even larger ones.

One thing that was a little sad to me was seeing 'cow bells' in the marketplace in Addis that had crudely been made out of tortoise shells by cracking them open, drilling a hole to feed a rope through, and hanging a piece of bone or hard wood inside. Here's a pic I took with the vendor's permission. I'd be interested to find out what the other species are that are in this pile. @Tom?



I know that it is not uncommon for tortoises to be collected and eaten, so it does make sense that the shell would also be used for a purpose. This still makes me sad, and I just hope that not too many are killed.

Above: Close-up of one of the bells made from a juvenile leopard tortoise.

(For the record, I only LOOKED at those tortoise shell bells, I didn't not buy any - would have been illegal to take out of the country, and also, would have supported something I don't agree with).


The 'pretty' leo decided to come investigate what this "ferengi" (what Ethiopians call us) was up to.

What a beautiful country Ethiopia is... we have fallen in love, and surely will return as often as we can in years to come! If you happen to be there, be sure to have lunch at the Lucy Cafe so you can also visit the tortoises that live behind it!

(PS: for those of you who asked, I'll post a few pics of us with our daughter in the Off Topic Chit Chat area later today)
The pile consist of only pardalis and belliana belliana.
 
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