The pancake tortoise is a unique tortoise with a thin, flexible shell. The shell has a black and yellow pattern and is not domed-shaped like most tortoises but flattened. This is why they are called pancake or soft-shelled tortoises.
This type of shell allows them to better escape and hide from predators. When threatened, they will move to the nearest rocky area and wedge themselves in a crevice. They live in colonies and are active during the morning, late afternoon and early evening. These tortoises aestivate during the hottest months, burying themselves underground.
During the breeding season the males will actively fight for females. The females dig a nest in the sand or soil between 7.5 and 10 centimetres deep. She will lay a single egg at a time but will lay many more over the season. The young tortoises are independent as soon as they hatch.
They are herbivores and eat dry grasses and plants. Their hard beak enables them to tackle tough plant material for food.
Pancake tortoises are classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. They are threatened by habitat loss and collection for the pet trade. Their grass and scrub land habitats are being cleared for agriculture and damaged by over-grazing. They have become popular as pets because of their unusual flattened appearance, which has led to over collection. Their slow rate of reproduction means that it takes many years for their population to recover.