Conservation project Testudo kleinmanni in Egypt

Short introduction:

In the early 8ties Testudo kleinmanni was seldom kept in captivity and prices in the pet trade were between 500 and 1000 Hfl or DM. After larger numbers were exported to the EU prices dropped to around 150 Hfl or DM. Almost all adult wild caught animals were in a terrible physical condition; they suffered from dehydration, liver and kidney failure and intestinal parasites. Transport from countries of origin to their final destinations was long and bad. The majority of those animals collected during the 8ties and 9ties did not survive long neither in private collections nor in zoos.

Since a decade it is estimated that Testudo kleinmanni in Egypt was virtually extinct. However since 2000 a limited number of animals was rediscovered in the Zaranik Protected Area in the northern Sinai desert (Baha El Din et al, 2003).

In Libya and Israel the status is also endangered. Major threats in the whole region are loss of habitat by intensive cultivation and use of drought resistance crops, overgrazing by cattle and collecting for the pet trade. In Israel also military movements within the tortoise habitat form a threat.

The species is internationally protected by CITES appendix 1 unfortunately not meaning that the species is safe. Illegal  trade is still proceeding and also in Europe several confiscations have been taken place with respect to illegal export from Libya. In October 2005 256 animals were confiscated at the Rome airport and November 2006 408 animals were confiscated on the Milaan airport.

In situ conservation:

Next to ex situ breeding programmes, the so called assurance colonies, protecting in its natural habitat is desperately needed. For a long time there was hardly any interest in protection of the species in the wild. In Egypt significant numbers of tortoises have been confiscated, trade on markets in the bigger cities however proceeded. The origin of these recent market animals is unknown but in general it is been suspected that they were illegally imported from Libya by Bedouins. Maintenance and control on legislation in these countries is very poor.

The status in the wild in Libya is unknown but it is estimated that still reasonable numbers live in certain remote areas. At the same time also on markets in Libya large numbers are offered for sale.

With respect to protection in Egypt over the last decade some work is done by the CARE programme led by Sherif and Mindy Baha El Din with international help from for instance the UK based Tortoise Trust and the London Zoo.

Since a few years attempts for conservation are intensified by Baha El Din and Omar Attum who involved local people. Attum is allied to the Purdue University in the US.

A start was made between 1994 and 2003 with several surveys followed by a pilot study by releasing two confiscated specimens equipped with radio transmitters assessing movement patterns (Attum et  al, 2007). During the surveys between 1994 and 2003 the rediscovery was done of the small population in the Zaranik Protected Area and an even smaller population in the El Omayed Protected Area (Sherif M. Baha El Din et al, 2003). During the 9ties the London Zoo was involved in field research and the development of a conservation strategy (Wenman, 1998).

Studies are done on the effectiveness of creating habitat oases by fencing and protecting patches of tortoise habitat, which is surrounded by a degraded habitat matrix. Several fences were built during the last few years, a few more a planned.

By taking a local community approach to protecting the Egyptian tortoises from pet collection by hiring local people to be research technicians and through the use of a craft program that gives the local community  an alternative and more sustainable source of income.

In the Zaranik Protected Area currently three local Bedouin research technicians are collecting data on the tortoises 10 days a month (Attum et al, in press). The tortoises are located and followed through tracking. For each tortoise encountered, the following is collected: longitude and latitude coordinates of location recorded by a GPS unit, air and ground temperature, the animals behaviour when observed, vegetation refuge height and canopy width and potential threats to the tortoises by identifying any goat, camel and human tracks within a 2 m radius of an animal (Attum et al, in press). By using local people a lot more information can be collected than by traditional and more expensive methods of telemetry.

The local people are mainly formed by approximately 1400 people of the Sweirki tribe. These people lost their migrating lives and are mainly depending on small scale agriculture and cattle keeping within the Zaranik Protected Area, but they occasionally also collected tortoises.

Coordination of the project is mainly carried out by Attum and Baha El Din in close cooperation with Bruce Kingsbury at the Centre for Reptile and Amphibian Conservation and Management at the Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne.

However costs are currently considerably low more funds are needed for further development of the project in a sense of payment of the Bedouin rangers, fencing additional areas, intensifying field research, equipment and travel costs.

A significant contribution is recently paid by the Dutch Turtle and Tortoise Society (NSV) in cooperation with the European Studbook Foundation (ESF). In 2007 3300 Euro was raised by the NSV members as a result of the annual conservation projects.

ESF Testudo kleinmanni studbook participants are contributing by paying a contribution of 100 Euro per bred animal placed on a breeding loan basis at other and/or new studbook participants; the breeders do not require payment for their offspring. 600 Euro are raised so far.

By one studbook participant the Kleinmanni project was proposed for funding within the Dutch company HSM Steel structures (Shell partner), the company where he is employed.

This action resulted in funding by HSN/Shell of 1500 Euro.

Furthermore for 2008 the Kleinmanni project is again proposed as NSV annual conservation project. An estimated 3500 euro is to be expected to be raised once more. Within two years time the total amount raised by NSV and ESF is an expected 10.000 euro.

Ex situ conservation:

Both the EAZA EEP programme and the ESF studbook/breeding programme count 320 living specimens (EEP: 193 and ESF: 127). The total EEP studbook population counts 305 specimens reported between 2000 and 2007 kept by 35 EAZA institutions. The ESF studbook counts 24 participants in 4 EU countries. During the early years of registration within the EAZA EEP quit a large number of adult wild caught animals died.

Positive development is the increase of reproduction within both programmes during the last few years. Within the EEP 187 births are reported of which unfortunately 62 (33%) died. The total living population of 193 specimens means 59% of the original reported specimens. Within the ESF studbook 74% of the population is captive bred; within the EAZA EEP 57%.

At present it is difficult to assess for the next 10 years how many specimens have to form the basis for a captive genetically healthy assurance colony. A management plan is currently prepared.

Next to the EAZA and ESF potential keepers of the captive population currently is researched whether more private or semi private  turtle projects within Europe, with a preference for the Mediterranean area, are able to house larger numbers of animals.

In Tabernas/Almeria in Spain at the ARCO/Spain turtle centre recently a tortoise facility for housing 40 T. kleinmanni is built. The NSV contributed 1000 euro in 2007; the majority of the costs (approx. 3500 euro) is paid out of private means of initiator and manager Prof. Dr. Hermann Schleich.

The 40 tortoises are part of the 150 specimens recently made available by CITES Italy out of the two confiscated shipments in 2005 and 2006 illegally imported from Libya.

The first 256 were directly after confiscation housed at the Rome Zoo. Just a few losses were reported shortly after arrival. Since then the group remained stable and showed no clinical symptoms of disease and even around 25 births are reported.

The second confiscated shipment of 408 animals was housed at different rescue centres in Italy. Until now it is not exactly known how the animals are doing but a significant number died during 2007.

During 2007 in Italy a lot is done by mister Alessandro Fernetti to get these two groups available for further reproduction in breeding programmes resulting in the readiness by CITES Italy to donate 150 specimens to TSA Europe. TSA Europe is now preparing transfer of these 150 tortoises to EAZA institutions to begin with. 6 EAZA Zoos experienced in successfully keeping and breeding tortoises were selected. On request of 3 zoos in the UK a herpes and mycoplasma research is recently carried out. 50 animals were sampled and researched with a negative result; the research was done by an institute in Munich/Germany. With this negative result of 50 and the fact that the tortoises never showed any symptoms of disease the whole group can now be considered as negative. Further testing in the near future is however necessary.

The 6 zoos receiving these Libyan animals were prepared to transfer their current stock to other EAZA institutions and to the ESF studbook. These EEP animals will be owned and managed by the ESF studbook and will be transferred to the participants on a breeding loan basis with help of a contract.

With this action the total captive European population will increase from 320 tortoises to 470.

If these activities develop in a positive way for all parties involved it might be possible to also home the rest of the current captive populations in Italy to the EAZA and ESF breeding programmes bringing the total assurance colony close to 1000 animals.

Further reading:

Attum O., Esawy M., Farag W., Gad A., Baha El Din., Kingsbury B. 2007. Returning them back to the wild; movement patterns of repatriated Egyptian tortoises, Testudo kleinmanni Lortet, 1883 (Sauropside: Testudinidae). Zoology in the  Middle East 41, 2007:35-40.

 Attum Omar, Mindy Baha El Din, Sherif Baha El Din and Suliman Habinan. 2007. Egyptian Tortoise Conservation: A Community based, Field Research program Developed From an Study on a Captive Population. Zoo Biology 26: 397-406.

Baha El Din, S.M. and Attum, O. 2000. The Herpetofauna of Zaranik Protected Area, Egypt, with notes on their ecology and conservation. Herpetological Bulletin, 37: 17-21.

Baha El Din, S.M. and Attum O. and Baha El Din, M. 2003. The status of Testudo kleinmanni

and T. werneri in Egypt. Chelonian Conservation, 4 (3): 648-655.

Wenman, E. 1998. Slowly it goes, Five weeks in Egypt to help ensure a future for the Egyptian tortoise. Lifewatch. Pp 6-8.

Zwartepoorte H.A., 2008. Die Aegyptische Landschildkrote (Testudo kleinmanni)

Sehr beliebt und kritisch bedroht. DRACO magazine January 2008. NTV. In press.

 

Henk Zwartepoorte,

TSA Europe chair

EAZA EEP coordinator

ESF chair

ESF Testudo kleinmanni studbook keeper.

January 7, 2008.

E-mail Print PDF
Last Updated on Thursday, February 19 2015