Pancake Tortoise Fact File

Malacochersus tornieri








Wild 25 years

Captive 35 years



Grass and other vegetation

The pancake tortoise is named for its incredibly flat shell. This is flexible and helps them to hide among rocks. Pancake tortoises are also considered to be the fastest species of turtle.

They are known as the crevice tortoise, softshell tortoise and Tonier’s tortoise.

Unfortunately the unique adaptations of the pancake tortoise have made them popular in the pet trade making them a target for the pet trade.


The pancake tortoise is named for its unusually flat shell. This is colored brown with pale yellow markings. The underside of their shell is colored pale yellow. They have reduced amounts of the bony plates on their back and as such have a much lighter shell.

When threatened they will enter a crevice and push down with the legs while inflating their lungs which wedges them among the rocks.

There is a pronounced hook to their beak (mouth).

An average pancake tortoise will measure 14-17cm (5.5-6.5in) long with a weight of 453g (1lbs).

Males can be distinguished from females as they have a longer, thicker tail than her.


Pancake tortoises will feed on herbs and succulent plants. A small amount of beetles may also be consumed.

Occasionally they will also consume berries or insects.

The majority of their water needs are thought to come from their food.


Africa is the native home of the pancake tortoise. Here they can be found in the East of the country through Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia.


These tortoises are found in savannas, shrubland, grassland and rocky areas.

They live in areas with boulders or other rocks which they can hide among.

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Mating takes place during January and February.

Egg laying occurs at the start of the rainy season with only one or two eggs being laid. The eggs will hatch after a four to six month gestation period. Several clutches of eggs may be laid each season.

At birth the shell is domed like that of other tortoises and it flattens out as they grow.

The gender of the hatchlings is decided by the temperature at which they incubate.

Hatchlings are independent from birth.

Sexual maturity is reached between 5 and 9 years old.


Pancake tortoises may share rock crevices. As many as 10 tortoises have bee seen resting together.

Their light weight shell is thought to be the main reason that they are the fastest species of turtle.

Foraging primarily takes place in the morning.

These tortoises are good climbers which are able to almost scale vertical surfaces.

pancake tortoise

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the pancake tortoise include mongooses, wild dogs and birds.

When threatened a pancake tortoise will use its speed to try and run away from the threat. Their flat shell does not allow them to retract their head like other turtles can.

Pancake tortoises are threatened by the wildlife trade for which they are regularly collected. These animals make limited movements and as such when an area is depleted it is rarely recolonized.

Small numbers are also collected for human consumption.

Habitat degradation is another threat with their rocky habitat regularly being destroyed. Collectors will also destroy their habitat as they break open crevices to reach the tortoises hidden inside.

Current IUCN Red List Status - Critically Endangered

Quick facts

They are also known as the crevice tortoise, softshell tortoise or Tonier’s tortoise.

Pancake tortoises are thought to be the fastest species of tortoise.

Photo Credits


Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle One

Ltshears, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle Two

Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2005. Animals of Africa & Europe. London: Southwater.

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Mwaya, R.T., Malonza, P.K., Ngwava, J.M., Moll, D., Schmidt, F.A.C. & Rhodin, A.G.J. 2019. Malacochersus tornieri. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T12696A508210. Downloaded on 06 May 2021.

Elmwood Park Zoo. 2021. Pancake Tortoise | Elmwood Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 2021. The Zoo | Pancake tortoise. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 2021. African Pancake Tortoise | Utah's Hogle Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021].

Folly Farm. 2021. Kifaru Black Rhino Reserve enclosure. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021].

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2021. African pancake tortoise. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 2021. Pancake Tortoise | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021]. 2021. Pancake Tortoise. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 6 May 2021].

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