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Testudo kleinmanni

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA REPTILIA TESTUDINES TESTUDINIDAE

Scientific Name: Testudo kleinmanni
Species Authority: Lortet, 1883
Common Name(s):
English Egyptian Tortoise, Kleinmann's Tortoise, Leith's Tortoise
French Tortue d'Egypte, Tortue De Kleinmann
Spanish Tortuga De Plastrón Articulado
Synonym(s):
Testudo leithii Günther, 1869 [non Carter, 1852]
Taxonomic Notes: Synonym = Testudo leithii Günther, 1869 (non Testudo leithii Carter, 1852)). The species was classified into the subgenus Pseudotestudo by Loveridge and Williams (1957). This subgeneric name is nonapplicable for T. kleinmanni because the taxon was based on juvenile characters not retained into adulthood (Bour 1989).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2abcd+3d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2003
Date Assessed: 2003-04-30
Annotations:
Needs updating
Assessor(s): Perälä, J.
Reviewer(s): Rhodin, A. & Behler, J. (Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Red List Authority)
Justification:
This species was previously assessed as Endangered. However, northeastern populations that were previously assigned to T. kleinmanni recently have been accepted as a separate species (Perälä 2001). The species' extent of occurrence covered an estimated area of 123,610 km² less than three generations ago. Today it is estimated at around 16,600 km². Within the same period population sizes are estimated to have reduced by over 85% from around 55,600 to 7,470 individuals, of which approximately 5,000 are mature individuals. This figure is less than the number of animals recorded from the illegal pet trade in the 1990s alone. Fairly good habitat patches still exist in Libya but the global population of T. kleinmanni could realistically face extinction in less than 20 years or around one generation if degradation of landscape and trade cannot be stopped.
History:
1996 Endangered
1994 Vulnerable (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Vulnerable (IUCN 1990)
1988 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Populations east of the Nile delta in Egypt and in Israel formerly assigned to T. kleinmanni have been shown to encompass a separate species Testudo werneri (Perälä 2001). Consequently, this assessment does not take into account information based on the above geographical region traditionally incorporated into papers on T. kleinmanni (Perälä 2002).

Historically, the range of T. kleinmanni runs along the Mediterranean coastal strip up to about 90-120 km, exceptionally further, towards inland in Libya (where disjunct populations exist in Tripolitania and in the Cyrenaican Peninsula) and more or less continuously from northeastern Libya to the Western Desert and the north coast in mainland Egypt (Lortet 1883, 1887, Loveridge and Williams 1957, Buskirk 1985, Iverson 1986, 1992, Baha El Din 1994, Fritz and Buskirk 1997, Perälä 2001). The range has possibly 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. Thus a priori treatments of isolated occurrences of T. kleinmanni as human introductions, or as extralimital, should be viewed with caution.
Countries:
Native:
Libya
Possibly extinct:
Egypt
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Currently, the species is effectively extinct within Egypt. Baha El Din (1994) surveyed the whole former range of T. kleinmanni in Egypt and concluded that the species disappeared completely within a period of approximately 10 to 20 years (between the early 1970s and the early 1990s). This time frame is estimated to represent around, or slightly more than, one generation length for T. kleinmanni, taking into consideration that maturity is probably reached at about 10-20 years in the wild as is the case in several other species of testudinids living in semiarid or arid conditions (e.g., Woodbury and Hardy 1948, Brushko 1977, review in: Kuzmin 2002). In 2001, two wild tortoises were found in a protected coastal area in the Western Desert, the first record for T. kleinmanni in Egypt in over twenty years (M. Baha El Din 2002). This finding, although significant per se, does naturally nothing to change the fact that T. kleinmanni is effectively extinct in Egypt.

The species can still be found in two distinct, and geographically disjunct regions in Libya (Tripolitania and Cyrenaica).

Judging by data produced in Iverson (1992), Buskirk (1985) and Baha El Din (1994), the species' extent of occurrence in Egypt, possibly up to the early 1970s, is estimated as having been around 67,860 km². According to available data (Buskirk 1985, Iverson 1986, 1992, Fritz and Buskirk 1997, Perälä 2001, Pieh, pers. comm.), the small northwestern (Tripolitanian) range encompasses an estimated extent of occurrence of around 5,500 km². Nothing is known about local population densities but A. Pieh (pers. comm.) concluded in situ that the coastal subpopulation has to be severely fragmented because of a mosaic of badly degraded habitat. The estimated extent of occurrence for present Cyrenaican population of T. kleinmanni is around 11,100 km², as measured using a minimum convex polygon and locality data provided by S. Baha El Din (2002), and Pieh (pers. comm.). Some 40 years ago the Cyrenaican T. kleinmanni population had possibly an estimated extent of occurrence of 50,250 km² as calculated using data from Buskirk (1985), Iverson (1992), and Perälä (2001), as well as assuming that the distribution was continuous from Cyrenaica to western Egypt. The isolated locality of "Sirtica" (Loveridge and Williams 1957) some 300 km west of Qaminis (Gheminez) in western Cyrenaica was not taken into account.

Because no fieldwork based data on the area of occupancy exist for T. kleinmanni, the area of occupancy is defined as 10% of the area of extent of occurrence, yielding estimations of total past area of occupancy 12,361 km² and total present area of occupancy 1,660 km².

20 years ago, Mendelssohn (1982) estimated the global population size of T. kleinmanni (including T. werneri from Sinai and Israel) at less than 10,000 individuals, including immature tortoises. This figure seems to be an underestimation regarding current estimates and statistics on trade. Mendelssohn (1982) also was not aware of the existence of T. kleinmanni in northwestern Libya, which was therefore not taken into account in his assessment. Although no population density assessments based on local field data have been published for T. kleinmanni in mainland Egypt and Libya, densities are thought to be very low (Buskirk 1985, Schleich 1989, Baha El Din 1994, M. Baha El Din 2002, S. Baha El Din 2002, A. Pieh, pers. comm.). Locals in Libya stated in April 2002 that populations of the species still exist in many parts of Cyrenaica, but that they have declined notably in recent years due to collection (S. Baha El Din 2002). Perälä (2002) estimates the past total world population at 55,624 individuals, substantially more than the estimate by Mendelssohn (1982). The total present world population of T. kleinmanni is estimated at 7,470 individuals (Perälä 2002), which is considerably less than the number of recorded animals collected in Libya for the pet trade in the 1990s. Out of the existing global population around 75% (5,000 individuals) would be mature adults if Mendelssohn's (1982) data on population structure for T. werneri is applicable for T. kleinmanni. According to the above estimate, the global population of T. kleinmanni would have declined by 86.6% (or by 48,152 individuals) in less than three generations. Out of these, at least 10,680 individuals have been recorded from the illegal pet trade in the 1990s alone (Baha El Din 1994, Ventura 1995, Pieh, pers. comm.). Because relatively good habitat still exists in Libya it is possible that the earlier inferred reduction in the extent of occurrence primarily reflects pressure from collection and illegal trade, rather than habitat degradation (in Libya).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: 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 (Lortet 1887, Baha El Din 1994). The majority of the species' primary habitats in Egypt are currently severely degraded, or already completely destroyed (Baha El Din 1994).

In Cyrenaica, northeastern Libya, the species occurs in shrubby sand and stone desert habitats (coast) and semidesert habitats with Artemisia association (further inland), according to Schleich (1987, 1989). Schleich et al. (1996) consider the species to occupy generally the margins of sandy, or dry stony, habitats. T. kleinmanni can apparently also be found (together with Testudo graeca species complex tortoises) in more vegetated Mediterranean subtropical shrub evergreen forests, as can be inferred from Schleich (1989) who cites Suluntah as a locality. It is however not clear how typical this habitat association is for T. kleinmanni in northeastern Libya, thus it is probably most appropriate to describe the species' primary habitat preference in Cyrenaica as Mediterranean scrub. Habitats are still in fairly good condition in Libya, but there are signs of extensive overgrazing in many parts, particularly in Cyrenaica, and ploughing for growing cereals is a common practice, and trends and plans for habitat utilization are unclear (S. Baha El Din 2002). According to fieldwork by A. Pieh (pers. comm.), in Cyrenaica habitat is locally still very good near Suluntah, and reasonably well preserved in the wadi system near Darnah. However, habitat on the whole coastal stretch between Darnah and Tubruq is severely degraded possibly due to extensive, and continuing, nomadic activity in that area. In Tripolitania habitat degradation due to human expansion is very evident on the coast east of Al Khums around Leptis Magna, whereas habitat in more southerly areas towards the inland near Gharyan "looks better" (A. Pieh, pers. comm.). Further, according to Pieh (pers. comm.), the coastline between Al Khums and the Tunisian border features occasional spots of undisturbed habitat.
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): In addition to agricultural (including overgrazing), developmental and industrial pressures, T. kleinmanni was very heavily affected by the (eventually illegal) national and international pet trade that began using the Libyan stock after Egyptian subpopulations were harvested to extinction (Baha El Din 1994).
The brochure of Tortoise Care (The Egyptian Tortoise Conservation Program) (Anonymous 2000) as well as S. Baha El Din (2002) list the illegal trade in T. kleinmanni of Libyan origin within Egypt as continuing. Trade in T. kleinmanni also exists within Libya itself (Fritz and Buskirk 1997; Pieh. pers. comm.; S. Baha El Din 2002), with potentially devastating consequences for the remaining world population. According to locals, collection pressure is higher in the east than in the west. Tortoises have a low annual biomass production resulting in a high degree of sensitivity to population disturbance and consequent poor recovery abilities from such activities as trade collection (Iverson 1982).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Whereas T. kleinmanni is covered by international conservation policies (the species is included in CITES Appendix I), and although it is protected by Egyptian law (Baha El Din 1994; Anonymous 2000), the species is unprotected in Libya (Anonymous 2000; S. Baha El Din 2002). However, recent information (M. Baha El Din 2002; S. Baha El Din 2002) suggests that the Libyan Environment General Authority and local academics show interest for tortoise conservation in Libya, and that they are looking forward to cooperating with the Egyptian based TortoiseCare program. Despite protection of T. kleinmanni by law in Egypt, the law is not implemented at all times (Baha El Din 1994; Anonymous 2000). S. Baha El Din (2002) indicates that TortoiseCare will continue to seek funding for future activities for the conservation of T. kleinmanni, and particularly for the development of a species action plan that takes into consideration the conservation needs of the species on a global level, including both Egypt and Libya.

Populations from Sinai and Israel, attributed traditionally to T. kleinmanni, were shown to comprise a separate species (Perälä 2001). However, the limited data available suggest that the geographically isolated subpopulation of T. kleinmanni from Tripolitania might additionally be taxonomically distinct. It is essential that local subpopulations are not mixed in any circumstances, including possible breeding projects, whether in or ex situ. The use of captive or confiscated stock of unknown origins or parentage in conservation programs should be discouraged at all times for the same reasons.

Data for uses and harvest levels are largely known for Egypt only (Baha El Din 1994) where monitoring is continuing (Anonymous 2000). No data are available for Libya.

Conservation measures are going on in Egypt (M. Baha El Din 2002) 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.

Protected areas exist in Egypt, including the one in which two individuals were recently found, and more are needed according to Baha El Din (1994), Anonymous (2000) and M. Baha El Din (2002). The motives for establishing new protected areas especially for T. kleinmanni are not entirely clear as the species is already effectively extinct in Egypt. Reintroduction projects have been currently stalled in Egypt (M. Baha El Din 2002). T. kleinmanni may occur in Kouf National Park in NE Libya (Schleich 1987) where one specimen was found 20 years ago (FMNH collection data). Other Libyan reserves in areas of tortoise activity are nonexistent (S. Baha El Din 2002). Protected areas would greatly enhance the survival prospects of the entire species if trade can be stopped.

Citation: Perälä, J. 2003. Testudo kleinmanni. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 23 December 2014.
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