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Sherif 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 further reinforcement.


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.

Habitat condition

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 occurrence.

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 Salum.
  • 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.

Future action


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.