A small, shy tortoise with a relatively variable shell. They can often be distinguished by their prominent "bowsprits", which are protrusions from their lower carapace under their chins. These are used by males to fight for territory or females.Their natural habitat is the coastal scrub vegetation of the south-western part of South Africa. This natural range extends across the Cape Region, as far north as the southern part of Namibia. There is also a colony on Dassen Island, off the South African coast.
The Bowsprit tortoise is commonly kept as a garden pet in South Africa. It is also increasingly threatened by illegal collecting for the pet trade. Outside of their natural range and climate they do not usually survive well, so when exported overseas, these pets usually die. This is partly because they are adapted to the warm, dry, Mediterranean-type climate of South Africa. They also naturally eat a wide range of indigenous South African plants and, if kept in a garden, they require a similarly wide range of plants available to feed on. They will not stay healthy if fed only on lettuce.
This tortoise, like most reptiles, also needs to be able to regulate its own temperature, by moving between sunny and shady spots. If kept as a pet, it therefore needs a large garden where it can both warm itself in natural sunlight, as well as seek shade when necessary. It needs a dry habitat, as constant moisture is particularly bad for it.