Classification and Range
Egyptian tortoises, also called Kleinmann’s or Leith’s tortoise, belong to the family Testudinidae, or land-dwelling turtles. This species has high domed topshells (carapace), and range in color from ivory to pale gold to dark brown or dull yellow.
Historically, this species has ranged along the fragile Mediterranean coastal strip of the North African coast extending from Libya, east to beyond the Nile Delta in Egypt. They rarely have been seen more than 120 km inland. The range may have been much greater in the past, and localities further inland or in the west, such as Siwa Oasis and the Tripolitanian range respectively, may represent the last remnants of a more extensive distribution in historical times which could have decreased with the natural aridification and expansion of the Saharan desert. Currently, the species is effectively extinct within Egypt. The species disappeared completely within a period of approximately 10 to 20 years (between the early 1970s and the early 1990s), mostly due to over collection by the pet trade, aridification and overgrazing. The species can still be found in two distinct, and geographically unconnected regions in Libya (Tripolitania and Cyrenaica).
T. kleinmanni populations in northern Egypt are historically associated with desert and semi-desert habitats characterized or dominated by compact sand and gravel plains with scattered rocks and shallow sandy wadis, although populations were also known to occur in or adjacent to coastal salt marsh habitats. The majority of the primary habitats in Egypt are currently severely degraded, or already completely destroyed. Habitats are still in fairly good condition in Libya, but there are signs of extensive overgrazing in many parts, particularly in Cyrenaica, and development for growing cereals is a common practice.
Length and Weight
This is the second smallest species of tortoise (the smallest is the speckled padloper of South Africa). The average total carapace (top shell) length is 5.67 inches (14.4 cm). Females are generally a bit larger and weigh 10.6–12.4 ounces (300–350g), with males about 4 inches (10.2g) and 5.6–8.8 ounces (160–250g).
In zoos: 20+ years In the wild: unknown
In the wild: Not completely known, but most likely fruit, grasses and flowers At the zoo: Leaves, grasses, flowers, fruit
Egyptian tortoise becomes sexually mature when about 10–20 years old. In the wild, mating has only been observed in March, but in captivity, they mate in April and August to November. During courtship, the male will ram the female, sometimes chasing after her. Unlike any other Mediterranean tortoise, the T. kleinmanni may make a mating call similar to the call of the mourning dove. Eggs are laid in shallow bowls dug out beneath bushes, or in vacant burrows or other animals. A clutch can contain 1–5 eggs, which hatch in the summer or early autumn.
Egyptian tortoises are herbivores, feeding on grasses, desert plants and fruit. They are most active during the warm periods and least active during the months when it is very cold or very hot. During the cooler months, the tortoise is most active at midday. In the hot months, it is only active during the early morning or late afternoon and spends the rest of the day hiding in the cover of bushes or in animal burrows.
Location at the Zoo
The Day Exhibit contains Egyptian tortoises as well as a variety of other tortoise and turtle species and other reptiles and amphibians.
Whereas T. kleinmanni is covered by international conservation policies (the species is included in CITES Appendix I); it is protected by Egyptian law. The Libyan Environment General Authority and local academics have expressed interest for tortoise conservation in Libya, and that they are looking forward to cooperating with the Egyptian-based TortoiseCare program. Conservation measures are going on in Egypt but not yet in Libya. More research is needed also in Egypt, such as a systematic search and identification of habitat pockets where tortoises might still exist.
The Egyptian Tortoise Conservation Program, supported by Woodland Park Zoo, and the Turtle Survival Alliance, among others, are actively working to protect Egyptian tortoise habitat. Woodland Park Zoo has also been successful over the last few years of breeding Egyptian tortoises through the AZA Egyptian tortoise Population Management Program. More than 65 have successfully hatched here at the zoo over the past 21 years
How You Can Help!
The effort to save threatened species like the Egyptian tortoise requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. If you must have a reptile or amphibian as a pet, make sure you know where they came from and that they were hatched from captive stock from a responsible breeder. Ensure that you know as much as you can about their care and NEVER release a non-native reptile or amphibian into the wild. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Let your elected representatives know your views about protecting endangered species and wild habitats. Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about tortoises by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at http://www.ssarherps.org.
Reptiles as Pets
We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area.
In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource. If you do choose to get a reptile as a pet, please learn as much as possible about their care and the best species before making your decision and never accept wild-caught animals as pets or release non-native
Sources and Suggested Reading
Bristol Zoo: http://www.bristolzoo.org.uk/egyptian-tortoise International
Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN): Testudo kleinmanni: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/21652/0
Animal ARKive: http://www.arkive.org/egyptian-tortoise/testudo-kleinmanni/
Tortoise Trust: http://www.tortoisetrust.org/guests/tortoisecare/