New baby leopard tortoise

Jenna B

New Member
Mar 20, 2020
Location (City and/or State)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Hi everyone :)

I'm a new owner, but it wasn't planned and I need asap newbie advice, please. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa. Leopard tortoises are native to the Cape so I'm close to their natural living conditions but not fully. I found a very tiny leopard tortoise on the side of the road, trying to cross a very busy intersection. I took him home. I would like to protect him and make sure he's healthy, especially through the upcoming Winter. But I have no experience in tortoise care and I need some help.

I am bathing him daily in lukewarm/coldish water (depending on how long he has had to warm up). He doesn't typically urinate or defecate in the water but he is during the day. He really hates the baths and it makes me feel bad.
Initially he only ate lettuce and marrow, and I had to practically put it in front of him and help. Now I'm hiding blended tomatoe and cabbage in the lettuce and he's taking to it very slowly. He eats a couple of clovers while he looks through the garden but none of the grass.
He is small enough for me to hold him (completely covered) in one hand. He weighs 52g, which is more than what he weighed when he came to us (48g). Technically very low on the Jackson (?) scale, but I'm not sure it is meant for juveniles.
His shell is hard but I reckon he's still only about one year.
During the day, I let him romp around an enclosed garden area we have. It has a lot of time in direct sunlight and there is always shade. It has soil and some weeds that he likes to hide in. I leave food and water but he doesn't touch it. It is a very big area, especially for such a small tortoise.
At night I bring him in to a box. It has soil, leaves, ferns and hiding places. I put newspaper on the bottom and change it all every 3 days. I leave a jar of boiling water and wrap it in a towel (there are slits on the sides for air) because I know it isn't humid enough. We live on the highveld, which is much higher up and quite different to the seaside dampness at the cape. I typically only bring him in at the end of the day, just before the sun goes down. By this time he has already found a spot in the outside enclosure so I move him very carefully and put him in his favorite spot in the inside box.
We have very hot and direct sunlight. (i.e- if you sit outside for 20 minutes during the day, you will likely get burnt. 40 minutes is guaranteed to burn without spf 50). But the nights are getting colder as we approach autumn. I'm sure it isn't cold cold, like other places around the world. I can still sleep comfortably with just a sheet, so Wilburforce shouldn't be too cold.
He walks very speedily and eats hungrily (a lot of lettuce). But when he is chilling, his back legs splay out behind him. It's very cute but I'm worried it's a sign of bad bone strength. He barely ever goes in his shell, only halfway when he's asleep.

I am worried he isn't eating enough grass or leafy greens but I'm not sure what to provide for him. There are very few reptile stores around and now with quarantine I won't be able to get to one anyway. I can start growing something in the outside enclosure but it won't grow very fast. If I am to grow something, it would have to be a very resilient type of weed so that it keeps going through winter and the half sun.
He has white on his eyelids and his eyes seem to be getting less glossy. He has a very healthy looking shell but all the hexagon bits are raised - maybe that's a sign of early pyramiding? I want to know exactly what to do to provide the best care going forward. His eyes seem to have gotten worse since I first got him, which is concerning me greatly.
What type of lamp do I need? What type of enclosure? How do I make the habitat more humid? What kind of grass would he eat? How can I make his white eyelids go away, and is it an emergency type of problem?

Please note that this is just what I'm doing because I can't leave him to fend for himself in such a crazy busy city. The two rehabilitation center's I know of are overfilled currently and the lady suggest I do my best until they can provide the best care, but I really would like to protect him until he is big and strong enough to be on his own. Next year I'll be driving to Sedgefield to visit my grandparents. Sedgefield is known as 'slow town' - a small seaside village. There are lots and lots of leopard tortoises living there naturally and the residents are very aware of protecting them by driving slowly etc.
Because I didn't plan this and I am a student, I need to be on a pretty strict budget. I will be able to buy vitamins and repellents and food each month, but it will be difficult to afford the light and enclosure etc immediately. Therefore I can't just get a cool tortoise table or anything like that, and will likely start in a large plastic box because I think the lamp and humidity should be first priority. Any suggestions on my best first move?

Sorry for the length, I'm just trying to be thorough. This looks like an incredibly supportive community with lots of good advice. Any would be appreciated! I hope everyone is fine and safe with the current crises around the world. But who better to be quarantined with than a tortoise, right? Especially Wilburforce, who I am loving more and more each day!

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Randy Micheals

Active Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jun 8, 2019
Location (City and/or State)
British columbia
Hello Jenna and Wilburforce. Hes cute no doubt. Are they protected and can you keep one you find? I dont know much about South Africa in this sense. Do you see a lot of torts in Cape? In any case since you have him now,

Read this.

He might hate his soaks because, as you described, they are coldish. Go for 85-95 degrees, and keep the water warm, even if you have to change it. This baby needs high stable humidity. Please read the guide.


Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
5 Year Member
Sep 6, 2011
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
What we tell people here in the USA is to leave the wild in the wild. You should have moved him to a safe distance from the road and then let him go.