Baha El Din
Between 4 - 10 April 2002 I visited Libya to
review the status of the Egyptian Tortoise Testudo kleinmanni and discus
conservation measures with officials in the country. The visit was carried
under the auspices of the Libyan Environment General Authority, with
sponsorship from the Royal Netherlands's Embassy in Cairo.
The main findings are that there are still
populations of T. kleinmanni in existence in the wild in Libya.
The exact condition of the populations was difficult to assess in such a short
visit. However, extensive suitable habitats are found, but there are
indications of habitat degradation. Collection of animals for sale in Egypt
appears to be the main threat. Conservation measures are limited and need
On 4 April I flew from Cairo to Tripoli,
meeting with Mr. Khaled El Taeb, from the Environment General Authority (EGA),
who accompanied my throughout the rest of the trip and was of great assistance.
On 5 April we made a field visit to tortoise habitats (Testudo graeca) south
and west of Tripoli. On 6 April I visited the headquarters of EGA. Meeting with EGA
staff responsible for nature conservation, including Dr. Abdulfattah Boargob
(Environmental Advisor). Visit to El Fateh University Department of Biology,
meeting with Dr. Mohamed Nouri and Dr Mohamed Faisal. On 7 April we travelled
between Tripoli and Benghazi, stopping at a variety of habitats on the way. On 8 April we
visited the Kouf National Park and Tubruq, stopping at a
variety of habitats on the way. On 9 April we also investigated the area
between Tubruq and El Bayda, surveying T. kleinmanni habitats in the vicinity
of Tubruq where we talked to local inhabitans and officials. On 10 April I flew
back to Cairo from Benghazi.
Condition of populations
It is evident that a population of some
size of T. kleinmanni still exists in Cyrenaica. During the brief field visits we succeeded in finding four T.
kleinmanni. Details are as follows: Adult male found wondering on stony
hillside at Ras Bayad (32°02'24"N 24°01'39"E); dried carapace of
adult female amongst flotsam on the beach (same locality); an adult female
crossing the highway west of Tubruq (32°07'11"N 23°35'58"E); and a
fresh road kill adult female in semi desert south of Gebel Akhdar (32°11'49"N
22°18'46"E). All records were made
on 9 April. Locals stated that populations of the species still exist in many
parts of Cyrenaica, but have declined notably in recent years due to collection.
The natural occurrence of T. kleinmanni in Tripolitania is not convincingly
proven. Despite several recent reports
of T. kleinmanni specimens found in the region, these animals could have easily
been introduced artificially by man in recent years. Some internal trade and
transport of these animals occurs, and T. kleinmanni is often seen in a local
market in Tripoli. These animals could become established in the suitable habitats of
Tripolitania. Although no T. graeca were observed in Tripolitania, extensive
suitable habitats were available. In Cyrenaica four adult animals were found very quickly in one small patch of
seemingly good habitat on Gebel Akhdar. These animals were very dark and not
typical of the pale T. graeca usually associated with Libya.
Habitats are still in fairly good
condition, however there are signs of extensive overgrazing in many parts,
particularly in Cyrenaica. Ploughing for growing cereals is a common practice.
Tortoise conservation measures
Libya has simple and clear wildlife conservation legislation (Law 7 /
1982, section eight), which prohibits the catching of endangered species, their
sale or export. However, lists of
protected species are old and outdated and, in fact, they do not include either
tortoise species known from the country. Libya has
not ratified CITES, but is said to be in the process of doing so. There are no
protected areas that encompass reasonable Testudo kleinmanni habitats.
Threats to T. kleinmanni in Libya
As is the case in Egypt,
tortoises are threatened by both collection for pet trade or by habitat
destruction. Collection seems to be a
more serious and immediate threat in the short run, as extensive habitats still
remain. However, it is not clear what the trend is for these habitats and what
future plans for habitat utilization there are.
According to locals, collection pressure is
higher in the east than in the west. In Cyrenaica, animals are collected by locals and sold (for 1 Libyan Liras each)
to Egyptian traders who take them across the border to Egypt. In
the western part of the country there is no similar demand for tortoises and
animals are not collected as much.
There seems to be a limited trade within
the country, and individual animals are regularly collected and transported
from one part to another by the public to keep them as pets in their gardens,
from which they often escape.
One man interviewed in Tubruq cited using
tortoise blood for medicinal purposes. However, this is probably a rare
Roads are another factor which further
degrades habitats and impacts tortoise populations. Finding two tortoises on
the highway in a matter of a few hours is an indicator that traffic probably
constitutes a significant threat to local populations.
Effectiveness of conservation measures
Conservation measures taken to date to
protect tortoises in Libya are generally not very effective. Although the Libyan customs have
been contacted by EGA to prevent the exit of tortoises from Libya,
Libyan animals are still being seen in Egyptian markets. There are however,
reports of several shipments said to have been stopped in recent months before
they crossed the border into Egypt.
From discussions with Libyan authorities
and colleagues several proposals to support tortoise conservation efforts in
the country in the short term were reached, these are as follows:
- Lobby to include both T. kleinmanni and
T. graeca on the Libyan list of protected animals in an explicit manner.
- •Carry out a comprehensive survey
throughout northern Libya to gain a more accurate estimate of population size and habitat condition
and extent for all tortoise species.
- Produce and distribute educational
materials designed for the Libyan public.
- Continue communication with border
control officials on both sides of the Egyptian - Libyan border crossing at
- Increase local capacity through training
and provide support for students at El Fateh University to conduct a detailed
ecological study of tortoise populations near Tripoli.
TortoiseCare will continue to seek funding
for future activities for the conservation of the Egyptian Tortoise, 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 in both Egypt and Libya.