REPORT ON INSPECTION VISIT TO SAIYYIDA AISHA MARKET, CAIRO, JUNE 1997
The Egyptian Tortoise, Testudo kleinmanni, is the most endangered species of tortoise in the entire Mediterranean region. It is threatened both by habitat destruction (El Din, 1994) and by collecting for illegal trade (Buskirk, 1985). This species has CITES Appendix I status, and in theory, no commercial trade of any kind should be taking place. The reality is different (Attum, 1996).
The Saiyyida Aisha animal market in Cairo is the single most important centre for the illegal trade in Testudo kleinmanni. From here, tortoises illegally collected in Libya are distributed to pet stores, foreign buyers, and individuals. The conditions at Saiyyida Aisha are among the worst that I have seen anywhere in the world. Tortoises are stacked 5 or more deep, with dead and dying animals mixed with the living. On one visit alone I counted, and filmed, approximately 300 Testudo kleinmanni on open sale at prices of between 5 and 10 Egyptian Pounds each. Many other endangered species of reptile, bird and mammals are also on open sale in this deplorable market. The conditions under which all animals held for sale are maintained is consistently appalling.
Earlier this year, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency organised a police raid on the market. Hundreds of Testudo kleinmanni were seized, along with numerous snakes, birds and other animals. In this instance, the seized animals were either released or are being maintained in temporary captivity whilst a release and captive breeding project is developed. Previously, most confiscated animals have been sent to Giza Zoo where they almost invariably die due to inadequate conditions and incompetent care within a few months. The initiative to release as many animals as possible, and to support a practical conservation effort, is to be very warmly welcomed and is a major advance on the previous practice.
It is evident, however, that Saiyyida Aisha continues to represent the main outlet for illegally taken Testudo kleinmanni. Whilst this market is allowed to operate outside of the law, and whilst dealers can continue to openly trade in Appendix 1 species there, the future outlook for this species is very depressing. All other conservation efforts aimed at preserving Testudo kleinmanni will fail whilst dealers at Saiyyida Aisha can continue to offer an uncontrolled and unmonitored marketplace for this and other internationally recognised endangered species.
A. C. Highfield
Director, Tortoise Trust
- Further police action against dealers in Saiyyida Aisha is of the utmost importance.
- Dealers should be given a simple list of species in which trade of any sort will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
- Dealers who continue to trade in such species must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law every time they are found in possession of prohibited animals.
- The market at Saiyyida Aisha must be inspected by Wildlife officials and enforcement police on every day which it operates until dealers learn that trade in banned species is impossible without incurring repeated legal penalties and confiscations. Regular enforcement patrols would make an enormous difference to the level of control (currently zero) in effect at this market.
- A simple poster should be produced and should be distributed to pet shops, animal dealers and others which illustrates those species which the relevant authorities have determined shall not be subject to any form of trade.
- Testudo kleinmanni should certainly be included on this list of totally prohibited species.
- Every pet store or dealer found in possession of Testudo kleinmanni should have his stock confiscated automatically and should face criminal penalties.
- Current penalties need to be reviewed. Not only should maximum fines be increased, but consideration should be given to issuing penalties for each animal involved. In this way, large-scale illegal dealers face massive potential fines and the deterrent effect of the law is much more effective. In the UK, USA and Europe this is the standard practice, and has been proved to have a genuine effect at discouraging dealers from stocking illegal animals in quantity.
- Attum, Omar (1996) What Price Egyptian Herpetofauna? Bull. Chicago Herpetological Society 31(7):129-131
- Buskirk, J. R. (1985) The endangered Egyptian Tortoise, Testudo kleinmanni: status in Egypt and Israel. In: Proceedings of the 9th International Herpetological Symposium on captive propagation and husbandry.
- El Din, S. M. Baha (1994) Status of the Egyptian Tortoise Testudo kleinmanni in Egypt. Report submitted to the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York.