AppearanceA small, shy tortoise with a relatively variable shell, they can often be distinguished by their prominent "bowsprits", which are protrusions of the "gular" shields, from their plastrons under their chins.
These are used by males to fight for territory or females. Uniquely, this species has only one gular shield under its chin; all other southern African tortoises have a divided/double scaled gular. Angulate specimens have 5 claws on their front legs and 4 on each back leg. They also, like most other southern African tortoises, have a nuchal scute.
NamingThis species is highly distinctive and is now classified by itself, in the monotypic ''Chersina'' genus. While it differs considerably from all other tortoise species, its closest relatives, according to phylogenetic studies, are the tiny "padloper" tortoise species, with which it shares its southern African habitat.
Internationally it is known by the two names of "angulate" and "bowsprit" tortoise. Locally in southern Africa however, it is uniformly known as the "angulate tortoise" in English, and as the "Rooipens skilpad" in Afrikaans.
FoodIf kept in a garden, these tortoises need a sizable warm, dry area with a diverse range of possible plant foods.
They naturally eat a wide variety of indigenous South African plants and, if kept in a garden, they require a similarly wide range of edible plants available, on which to feed. They will not stay healthy if fed only one food type, such as lettuce.
PredatorsTheir natural habitat is the ''fynbos, karoo, albany thickets'' and coastal scrub vegetation of the south-western part of South Africa. This is an area of semi-arid and mediterranean climate, with winter-rainfall. Within this climatic range however, the bowsprit tortoise is a tough and very adaptable species.
Geographically, this natural range extends across the Cape Floristic Region, as far north as the southern part of Namibia. In addition, small colonies have been introduced by tourists to domestic gardens in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, even further north, in central Namibia. To the east, its range extends along the Cape's southern coast as far as East London.
There is also an especially dense colony on Dassen Island, off the South African coast.
Throughout its range, this tortoise usually occurs in the greatest numbers near the coast. Inland it occurs at lesser densities, though smaller populations are even found in parts of the Karoo.
Within its natural range, the natural predators of the species include mongoose, jackals, badgers, baboons and predatory birds which attack the infants. Perhaps the largest killers of this species in its natural habitat are the periodic wildfires, which can kill hundreds of thousands at a time.
Due to human activity, it is also increasingly threatened by habitat destruction from agriculture and other development, as well as illegal collecting for the pet trade and deaths from tortoises crossing busy roads.
Human introduced species such as the Pied Crow kill thousands of infants every year, especially along the West Coast where this invasive species is rapidly spreading.
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