Egyptian Tortoise

Megan Nickles


The Testudo Kleinmanni, or Egyptian Tortoise, is a small, desert-living tortoise of the Middle East, recognized for it's golden colored shell and extremely small size. In fact, it is the smallest tortoise in the Northern Hemisphere. The largest Egyptian tortoise was only 128mm while the average male is 90mm. It's light colors allows the tortoise to survive in some of the hottest and dryest areas of the world, while also providing some camoflauge against predators in its rocky sandy habitat. The Egyptian tortoise is a herbivore and feeding on dry grasses and desert flowers and fruits.

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Current Status

Currently the Egyptian tortoise is critically endangered. In the past, the Egyptian tortoise populated most of Egypt and Libya but now it is completely extinct in Egypt and it's population in Libya is dwindling. If something drastic is done the Egyptian tortoise could go completely extinct in Libya in less than 20 years.

Unique Adaptations

Their small size and the light coloration is an adaptation to the dry and hot environment the tortoise lives in. Their size allows the tortoise to maintain a certain body temperature and the minimal black pigmentation minimizes heat absorption from the sun's rays. In addition, the tiny tortoise is capable of excreting either uric acid or less concentrated urea as a metabolic adaptation to its extreme environment.
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The Egyptian tortoise was once found in Egypt and Libya, however, their habitat in Egypt has been all but destroyed, and Egyptian Tortoises are now effectively extinct there. Two populations can still be found in Libya, but much of the coastline habitat has been destroyed. They live in deserts and semi-arid habitats, usually with compact sand and gravel plains, scattered rocks, shallow, sandy wades, dry woodlands, shrubby areas, and coastal salt marsh habitats.
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The two main threats to the Egyptian tortoise's survival is illegal collecting for pet trade and habitat distruction and degradation. The Egyptian tortoises small size makes it very appealing to humans and they want them as pets. Many conservationists found that the intense commercial collection was causing the amount of Egyptian tortoises in the wild to decrease significantly and they created laws against selling them for commercial use. However the turtles are still being sold illegally. Agricultural expansion, cultivation, overgrazing and urban encroachment have put enormous pressure on the Egyptian tortoise’s fragile and dwindling habitat, dramatically reducing available vegetation for food and cover and eventually caused the Egytian tortoise's complete extinction from it's native Egypt.

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Current Conservation Efforts

The Egyptian tortoise is protected by law in Egypt but not in Libya. Additionally, in Egypt, there have been confiscations of Egyptian Tortoises by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and the police being sold at the Tunsi animal market. However, Egyptian tortoises are still being illegally sold in Egypt. There are protective areas existing in Egypt, however, there is little motivation to maintain those protective areas and the establish new ones because the tortoise is effectively extinct in Egypt. The only protected area in Libya is in Kouf National Park, but that is all. More protected areas for the Egyptian tortoise would be extremely beneficail to it's survival. Additionally, TortioseCare was established to promote the conservation of the Egyptian Tortoise and its habitats in Egypt and throughout its range.
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The Egyptian Tortoise's natural predators are many desert birds and lizards, so consequently if the tortoise went extinct in Libya, their predators would be greatly effected. The tortoise does excavate their own burrows, but instead utlilize rodent burrows as a way of shelter. They have adapted a relationship with the rodents and without the tortoise there, the rodents lives will have to change. A big reason why many people want to save the Egyptian tortoise is because of the cruel treatment it endures when in the illegal trade business. There is a high mortality rate of tortoises during their shipment to various places and no reported captive breeding being done so their population just keeps dwindling and dwindling.

One major way humans can help keep the Egyptian tortoise alive is to stop buying them as pets. Even though they are super cute and tiny they are not meant to be household pets and the illegal trade of them is largely contributing to their endangerment.

Tiny Baby Egyptian Tortoise Up Close