Threats to tortoises I have described in previous posts have mainly been from habitat destruction and collection for food. With T.kleinemanni the situation is different, as practically the entire cause of its current dire situation is collection for the pet trade.
In the past, a trade in wild caught tortoises, usually larger species such as Spur-thighed T.hermanni or Greek T.graeca was widespread in Europe. These were usually collected from Spain, Italy, or Greece, and sold very cheaply in pet shops. Of course, in a British climate attempting to keep such creatures in the back garden without any of the equipment or lighting available today, was a recipe for disaster, and most died within a year or two. As European populations declined, the trade moved to new areas, and among the species targeted was T.kleinemanni. As a desert edge specialist, these had an even poorer life expectancy in Europe then Mediterranean species, but the cost of collection was low, there were few laws governing the trade, especially in the source countries, and as a result the species became extinct in Egypt. Today the sole remaining effective population, with perhaps 5,000 adults, is to be found in Libya, and that is also very vulnerable. They are traded inside Libya itself, even though they are protected under CITES, and the recent upheavals can have done nothing for law enforcement of what environmental protection laws Libya currently has.
|Confiscated T.kleinemanni, Genoa, 2005|
|kleinemanni on left, werneri on right|
The animals we currently have on show are part of a group confiscated from animal smugglers. Descendants of wild caught animals are in the pet trade, but unfortunately at that time it was not realised that the western and eastern populations were different species, and it is probable that the two forms were hybridised. Our animals are not yet old enough to breed, but we have hopes they will do so in the future.
For more information on this lovely species, see the tortoisetrust website at http://www.tortoisetrust.org/guests/tortoisecare/species.html
(images from Bristol Zoo, wikipedia, tortoisetrust.org)