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Egyptian tortoise

Scientific name: Testudo kleinmanniEgyptian tortoise

Country: Libya, Egypt

Continent: Africa

Diet: Grasses, herbs and fruits.

Food & feeding: Herbivore

Habitats: Scrub forest, desert and semi-desert

Conservation status: Critically Endangered

Relatives: Giant tortoise, pancake tortoise

Description: The Egyptian tortoise is the smallest tortoise inhabiting the northern hemisphere. Its distribution is limited to a narrow range of coastal desert in the south-east Mediterranean Basin, from Libya to Israel. It is adapted to one of the driest habitats supporting chelonians (tortoises), with some areas receiving less than 50 mm of rain each year! Its small size allows it to heat up rapidly in the sun and pale dull yellow colour reduces the amount of heat absorbed from the sun.

Lifestyle: Egyptian tortoises are herbivores, feeding on rough grasses, desert plants and fruit. They are most active during the warm periods of the year and least active during the months when it is very cold or very hot. During the cooler months, the tortoise is most active at midday. In the hot months, it is only active during the early morning or late afternoon and spends the rest of the day hiding in the cover of bushes or in rodent burrows.

Growing up: During the early spring when the weather becomes warmer, Egyptian tortoises mate. The female lays up to five eggs in a shallow depression in the sand under a bush or in a burrow. The eggs hatch during the summer or early autumn. The young mature in five years, growing to a length of 10-15 cm.

Human development in this tortoise's habitat areas affects them in some surprising ways. Putting up telegraph poles and electricity pylons creates nesting places for brown-necked ravens that love to feed on baby and adult Egyptian tortoises.

Conservation news: The Egyptian tortoise is now one of the world's most endangered tortoises and is thought to be near extinction in Egypt. The two main threats are habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade. It will probably become extinct in the wild within the next twenty years unless these threats disappear.

Having successfully bred this species for many years, Bristol Zoo recently received a new group of Egyptian tortoises.  These tortoises had been confiscated enroute from Libya and are now part of a new European breeding programme (EEP) co-ordinated by Rotterdam Zoo.