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Pancake tortoises live in isolated colonies, with many individuals sharing the same kopje, or even crevice. Males fight for access to females during the mating season, in January and February, with large males tending to get the most chances to mate. Nesting in the wild seems to occur in July and August, although clutches are produced year-round in captivity. Wild and captive specimens often bask and, although they do not appear to hibernate, there are reports that they may aestivate beneath flat rocks during the hottest months.
The pancake tortoise lives up in mountainous regions in Eastern Africa, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The landscape is very rocky, and has little life of plants. What plants do live there are thorny succulents, and trees. Little grass but it does grow in the locations where pancake tortoises are found in the wild. They live in crevices of rocks as many as a group of 12 animals per crevice or hole. The pancake tortoise obviously gets its name from its appearance. The plastron and carapace is actually flexible so they can maneuver and squeeze into the very narrow or tiny openings of their den or hole they choose to nestle into. The geographical make up of their habitat also consist of a usually a higher altitude being up as high as 6000 feet above sea level. They are excellent climbers.
The Pancake Tortoise’s conservation status is considered vulnerable. Lots of habitat destruction, and over collecting for pet trade has brought a very limited number of export of these wonderfully unique tortoises.
The unusually thin, flat, flexible shell, which is up to 7"-8" long is unique as the shell bones of most other tortoises are solid, the pancake tortoise has shell bones with many openings, making it lighter and more agile than other tortoises. The carapace (top shell) is brown, frequently with a variable pattern of radiating dark lines on each scute (shell plate), helping to camouflage the tortoise in its natural dry habitat. The plastron (bottom shell) is pale yellow with dark brown seams and light yellow rays, and the head, limbs and tail are yellow-brown. Its bizarre, flattened, pancake-like profile makes this tortoise a sought-after animal in zoological and private collections, leading to its over-exploitation in the wild.
Most activity occurs during the morning hours or in the late afternoon and early evening. The diet primarily consists of dry grasses and vegetation. The pancake tortoise is a fast and agile climber, and is rarely found far from its rocky home so that, if disturbed, it can make a dash for the nearest rock crevice. Since this tortoise could easily be torn apart by predators, it must rely on its speed and flexibility to escape from dangerous situations, rather than withdrawing into its shell. The flexibility of its shell allows the pancake tortoise to crawl into narrow rock crevices to avoid potential predators, thus exploiting an environment that no other tortoise is capable of using.