The Distribution and Status
of Pancake Tortoises, Malacochersus tornieri, in Kenya
ROGER CONANT WOOD 1 and ALEC MACKAY 2
1 Faculty of Science and Mathematics, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, NJ 08240, USA
2 Department of Reptiles and Amphibians, National Museums of Kenya, P.O. Box 40658, Nairobi, Kenya
ABSTRACT: Pancake tortoises have a considerably greater geographic distribution in Kenya than previously realized. Although two of the three occurrences reported in the literature are probably erroneous, newly discovered localities confirm the widespread existence of this species within the country.
Our primary study site near Nguni, in the Kitui District of Kenya, has undergone significant habitat changes, with extensive clearing of indigenous thorn scrub for agricultural purposes. Pancake tortoises have a patchy distribution within this area, being found only in low, irregularly spaced, exfoliating rock outcrops. There appears to be a 1:1 adult sex ratio, with no notable sexual dimorphism except tail size and shape (those of males being longer and thicker). Tortoises were often found in male/female pairs.
In the 1960s and 1970s large numbers of pancake tortoises were exported from Kenya, a practice now prohibited. Local Kenyans who had formerly collected for the pet trade reported no overall decline in abundance since the 1970s. However, the current alteration of habitat may ultimately prove of greater consequence to Kenyan pancake tortoises than their former collection for the pet trade. While the tortoises spend most of their time in rock crevices, their essential life functions of feeding, nesting, etc. require intact vegetated habitat.