Zoo News is Good News: African Spurred Tortoises

Zoo Welcomes Dozer And Shelly

By Oregon Zoo Staff


A male African spurred tortoise at the Oregon Zoo. ©Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham

Two huge African spurred tortoises named Dozer and Shelly are settling into their new digs at the Oregon Zoo — and despite the tortoise’s slowpoke reputation, keepers say these behemoths really get around.

African spurred tortoises — also known as sulcata tortoises — are the largest mainland tortoise species in the world and have been known to top 200 pounds. Only the island tortoises of Galápagos and Aldabra are bigger.

Dozer, a male, and Shelly, a female, tip the scales at around 170 and 90 pounds, respectively. The two tortoises are believed to be around 25 to 30 years old, and came to Portland from New York’s Seneca Park Zoo. Visitors can see them most days in the Oregon Zoo’s Africa Savanna section.

“They’re doing really well in their new habitat,” said Shelly Pettit, the zoo’s senior keeper for reptiles and amphibians. “They’re very active and surprisingly speedy. Dozer did not get his name by napping.”

Pettit says the name is actually short for Bulldozer, a tribute to this species’ exceptional strength and excavating abilities.

Although African spurred tortoises are bred and sold throughout the United States, Pettit warns not to acquire them as pets.

“Pet stores often sell these tortoises when they’re still babies, but they get very large very quickly,” she said. “A hundred pounds is a whole lot of tortoise to care for, and these guys typically live 50 years or more. Most people are not able to make a lifelong commitment to their care, and rescue agencies are overwhelmed trying to find new homes for those that have been abandoned.”

African spurred tortoises are listed as a “vulnerable” species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In addition to collection for the pet trade, the tortoises are threatened by habitat loss and poaching.

Learn more at oregonzoo.org.