Testudo kleinmanni LORTET, 1883 - Die Ägyptische Landschildkröte

Die faszinierende kleine Schönheit Nordafrikas und Israels

The way of life of Testudo kleinmanni in the wild

The Egyptian tortoise adapted in the course of evolution to an exceedingly extreme climate, with hot dry summers and mild rainy winters.

The natural habitat

If you want to care for Testudo kleinmanni in an appropriate way, you should take the natural habitat as a model. To be able to create a similar habitat, it is important first to know, how the Egyptian tortoise lives in the wild. Today's remaining distribution area is limited to last small populations in the three provinces of Libya (Tripolitania, Sirtica and Cyrenaica) and in the northern regions of the Negev Desert, near the border of Egypt. In Egypt, the original population is considered to be extinct. However, new populations have been successfully resettled for several years by breeding-programs. Testudo kleinmanni lives in Libya on solidified, sometimes very stony sandy soils or in the sand dunes of the desert peripheral areas of the Negev Desert. The plant growth is sparse and serves the Egyptian tortoise as a source of food, also as a hiding place. The landscape is called Artemisia steppe - a steppe consisting only of shrubs and grasses, due to the there so sparsely growing plant society. Especially in the sand dunes, the vegetation serves to strengthen the soil.  

Adaption to the extreme climate

The Egyptian tortoise lives in a narrow strip of coast between the Mediterranean on one side and the desert on the other side. The climate is characterized by very hot, dry summers and damp, mild winters. Due to its proximity to the coast, the average annual relative humidity is around 61-68% year-round. In the middle of summer, temperatures reach an average of 32 ° C during the day and drop slowly to around 22.5 ° C at night. In winter, on the other hand, they stay mild during the day with an average of 17.5 ° C, but at night it gets very cold with average temperatures of around 9 ° C.

In the period from May to the end of September, there is little rainfall. It may happen that there is a last light rain shower at the beginning of May or a first light rain shower at the beginning of September, which is very rare from my observations about a weather app on my smartphone. In the rain-poor or completely rain-free period, the vegetation in the habitat dehydrates almost completely, fresh food and water are no longer available. In adaptation to this climatic extreme, the Egyptian tortoises retreat to deeper crevices or rodent structures or tunnels. These are a slightly wetter, cooler microclimate, which protects the tortoises from drying out. The time in which the animals retire and rest in their hiding places, is called dry rest, summer rest or even aestivation.

With the first rain showers at the end of September / beginning of October, the new season begins for Testudo kleinmanni. With increasing rain, the vegetation of the steppe or semi-desert becomes green and is blooming again. The most frequent rainfall is in December and January. In this phase of activity with the first rain, falls the hatching of juveniles, in early spring the courtship and mating season and in early summer, just before the aestivation, the time of oviposition.

The Way of life of Testudo kleinmanni

I have already mentioned a small part of the lifestyle in the topic of the climate. As you already know, in adaptation to the extreme climate, the Egyptian tortoise is a winter-active and summer-resting species.

Testudo kleinmanni feed exclusively on herbal food, which is only accessible near the ground in their habitats because of their small size. Water is licked in the form of dew drops, or dripping rainwater from plants or stones. Even after a rich rain shower, the water seeps very fast in the sandy soil, so there are no stagnant waters or puddles from which the tortoises can drink. While in summer the wetter and cooler rodent structures are visited, the Egyptian tortoises in winter use mainly the ground-level shrubs and bushes as a shelter or hiding place. Like many other tortoise species, Testudo kleinmanni are sedentary to the place they live in. In the wild, they have permanent habitats and regularly visit the same hiding places. Adult Egyptian tortoises mostly live as loners or in very small groups, juvenile ones often live together in larger groups during the first years of life. This species is an energetically moving one, according to this they use large activity radii (home-ranges) in the territories they inhabit.

Reproduction takes place in early spring, mainly in March. In the months of May and June, occasionally even in early July, the females lay their eggs well hidden among shrubs in about four centimeters deep nests. Towards the end of the summer rest, hatchlings hatch at the beginning of the food- and water-rich time.

Status of Testudo kleinmanni and endangering of the species

The original range of the Egyptian tortoise 100 years ago extended about along a narrow, approximately 90 km wide coastal strip from Libya through Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula to the northern regions of the Negev Desert of Israel. Over the years, the habitat of Testudo kleinmanni has been increasingly destroyed by human hands. The construction of large hotel complexes, the use of land for grazing livestock or military stations and roads are the main causes of this habitat destruction. But also the collection of thousands of specimens for sale in Egyptian markets and pet shops or for the illegal transport into the world, have so decimated the populations of the Egyptian tortoise, that nowadays only small populations in Libya and Israel are left. In Egypt, the origin populations are now considered to be extinct.

In 1995, the Egyptian Tortoise was placed under the protection of the Washington Convention (CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Here it is listed in Appendix 1. In the IUCN Red List, it has been classified since 2003 as "critically endangered" - threatened with extinction.


Since the 1990s, various conservation projects in Egypt have been launched to conserve biodiversity through breeding-programs and resettlement in suitable habitats. Sherif and Mindy Baha El Din founded the conservation project "Tortoise  Care Egypt" in the mid-1990s. The project is now working with various parties worldwide. One of the objectives is to raise awareness of the protection of animals and their habitat in the minds of the population and governments, to stop illegal trafficking, to protect the remaining suitable habitats and to successfully reintroduce the animals produced from the breeding-programs. Such reintroduction projects are taking place in Egypt in the El Omayed Nature Reserve and the Zaranik Nature Reserve.

In Libya, the “Libyan Wildlife Trust” is committed to protect several animals the libyan wildlife, including Testudo kleinmanni.

Other parts of the world have also devoted themselves to the protection and preservation of Testudo kleinmanni. In the UK, the organization "Tortoise Trust" has its headquarters. Andy Highfield, leading head of the "Tortoise Trust", succeeded in 1994 in breeding the first offspring of Egyptian tortoises on the British mainland. On the website of the organization you find a lot of useful information about the most different types of turtles and tortoises.

The European Studbook Foundation (ESF) and the European Association for Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) are working together on a conservation breeding program. This program is directed by the Zoo Rotterdam.

Also in Germany Testudo kleinmanni finds more and more support in the hearts of turtle friends. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Herpetologie und Terrarienkunde  (DGHT - German Society for Herpetology and Terrarium Science) also offers various working groups. Nevertheless, the existing offspring in Europe and the world are still not enough to stem or prevent the illegal trade.


As mentioned, the Egyptian tortoise is a critically endangered species. Therefore, it was put under the protection of the Washington Convention on the Protection of Animals. The sale or purchase of animals taken from the wild is strictly prohibited. The trade is only allowed with offspring from human custody. For this purpose, the animals need appropriate papers, issued by the responsible office for environmental protection and nature conservation. Each tortoise in stock must be reported to the Authority. The necessary forms can be obtained either there or as a form download on the Internet. Once a new animal is added, a stock change indicator must also be made. This also applies to animals that have left the stock or have died. In addition, the holder is obliged to create and continue a photo documentation for each of his animals. In which periods or to what extent the photo documentation must be made, you also find out at the responsible office.

These regulations apply to Germany and Europe. You must find out from the relevant authorities  how this is regulated in your country. Some countries require chipping instead of a photo documentation. Please inquire which legal requirements your authority has before acquiring a tortoise.