We have some big news for the small Egyptian tortoise, the second smallest species of tortoise, which is believed to be extinct within Egypt but can still be found in Libya and in parts of the Negev Desert in Israel.
Friends of Animals (FoA) received a positive 90-day finding on its petition to list the Egyptian tortoise under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This means the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found FoA’s petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the ESA listing may be warranted, so it will conduct its own status review. An ESA listing would prohibit the sale, purchase and transport of the species in the United States.
Male Egyptian tortoises are typically 8 to 10 cm and females are typically 10 to 12 cm in length. The Egyptian tortoise remains essentially unprotected by current international and national law regimes. Despite an Appendix I “threatened with extinction” listing by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, there has been consistent illegal trade in protected tortoises, and wild-caught individuals are exported under the guise of being bred in captivity. In addition, CITES does not address habitat loss.
Urban development, tourist development, agricultural expansion and livestock overgrazing have already destroyed more than 86 percent of the tortoise’s historic range. Overgrazing leads to a reduction in shrub density and plants, this in turn leads to less cover and food for tortoises, as sheep and goats directly compete with tortoises for the same food resources. Overgrazing, human settlement and agriculture also destroy rodent burrows and other hiding options for the tortoise. During summer months, the Egyptian tortoise typically aestivates, or stays dormant. For aestivation the tortoise also relies on the existence of abandoned rodent burrows.
Other factors that affect the Egyptian tortoise’s long-term survival are it produces few offspring and has late sexual maturity—it takes 10 to 20 years for the Egyptian tortoise to become sexually mature and its total lifespan is 22 to 26.