Size The common padloper is another small padloper species endemic to South Africa. Females may reach a carapace length of 120 mm, shell height of 60 mm and could weigh up to 300 g. Males, which are smaller than females, grow to approximately 100 mm in length, 50 mm in height and may weigh up to 140 g.
Description The shell of the common padloper is relatively flat and the shields on the carapace are smooth with large areolae. Unlike the other, this species has four claws on each of the front and hind feet. Buttock tubercles are absent in this species. The background colour pattern of the carapace in females is usually uniformly light to olive-brown, whereas the carapace of males is more uniformly orange-brown in colour. Each shield on the carapace has a thin black edge. The plastron or underside of the shell is usually dirty-white in colour. During breeding time, the head and nasal shields of males become brightly orange coloured. Males have a proportionately larger head than females and possess a distinctly hooked upper jaw, giving the appearance of a parrot-beak; hence the alternative English common name.
Biology This species is mainly found in moister, coastal habitats throughout its distribution range, including the renosterveld and mountain fynbos in the West and eastwards through the southern Cape to the Valley Bushveld (Subtropical Thicket) in the Eastern Cape. Favourable inland climatic conditions, however, enable them to live in areas such as Clanwilliam in the Cederberg region, Middelpos and Sutherland on the Roggeveld Escarpment and Cradock in the eastern Great Karoo. Being adapted to a variety of habitats, they could be regarded as generalists in their habits. They frequent low-lying shrublands, subtropical thicket and transitional zones between forest and shrubland, but are also found in upland fynbos habitats onto the foothills of the Cape Fold Mountains for example. They remain active throughout most of the year, but their activity is severely curtailed by inland winter climates. Males are known to fight with each other and they can inflict severe wounds with their sharp beaks. Mating and egg-laying usually occur during spring to early summer and usually two eggs (or up to four) are laid more than once during the season. Eggs are known to hatch at the onset of the first winter rains in the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape. Because of the varied nature of their habitats, their diet is presumed to be varied as well, and specimens have been successfully maintained in captivity on a high fibre, low sugar and high bulk diet.
Distribution Common padlopers occur from Clanwilliam and the Cederberg in the West in a broad coastal band eastwards through the southern Cape and up to East London. Inland populations have been recorded at Middelpos and Cradock.
Distribution in GCBC It is suspected that this species will be somewhat restricted to the renosterveld and fynbos foothills of the Cederberg Corridor in and around Clanwilliam and possibly the Olifants River Mountains where they could be found together with the southern speckled padloper.
Conservation status The common padloper is classified as Protected Wild Animal by the Nature Conservation Ordinance No. 19 of 1974 (as ammended in 2000) and may not be collected, transported, or possessed in, or imported into or exported from the Western Cape Province without special permission. Their status is considered relatively stable but local populations may be threatened by specific threats such as the clearing of land for agriculture or development, poor landuse management (overgrazing for example) or the collection for the pet trade. Similar to all other terrestrial tortoises, they are listed internationally in Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES); legislation which regulates the international trade in these animals.
Threats Similar to other species, habitat destruction through mainly indiscriminate agricultural development and poor landuse practices and illegal collection for the pet trade threaten healthy populations throughout their range. Fire, especially in coastal lowland, fynbos and thicket habitats, poses a threat to this species but like others, they also fall prey to many natural predators such as baboons, jackal, mongoose, badgers and predatory birds. Domestic dogs also pose a threat.
Current studies Recent studies by workers of the University of the Western Cape, as part of a collaborative research programme with the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board have yielded much information about the general biology of this species. The results of these studies enable conservation agencies to compile well-informed strategies to conserve healthy natural populations.