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Information about The Egyptian Tortoise About the threats to the species About the Project, its objectives and actions How to get in touch with TortoiseCare Contributors to TortoiseCare Links to other T. kleinmanni resources How YOU can help! What's new?


TortoiseCare is a program for the conservation of the Egyptian Tortoise Testudo kleinmanni throughout its range. It was initiated by Sherif and Mindy Baha El Din after they were entrusted with the care of 200 Egyptian Tortoises confiscated in government raids on illegal traders to oversee their return to the wild.

The dilemma of how to manage such a vast number of very sick animals belonging to a highly endangered species set into motion the first steps of the development of TortoiseCare. The problem brought to our realization that the sustainable conservation of the species is dependent on the collaboration of all concerned parties. Now this initiative has evolved into a unique program that brings together many participants inside and outside Egypt: concerned individuals, government bodies, NGOs, locals, academic institutions and even private businesses.

We see this program as an opportunity to introduce the conservation ethic to a wider audience in Egypt. To make this a part of the language of businesses and of individuals, not only of the government. The success of these efforts could mean more than helping to save the Egyptian Tortoise, it could help to promote awareness and generate support for the conservation of Egypt's rich natural heritage!


Ensure a sustainable future for the Egyptian Tortoise in the wild in its natural habitats.


  • Halt the illegal collection and trade in the Egyptian Tortoise;
  • Protect the species' natural habitats;
  • Set-up sustainable captive breeding programs;
  • Rehabilitate and reintroduce animals back into the wild;
  • Build capacity in all aspects of tortoise care;
  • Generate awareness and public support for conservation efforts;
  • Promote networking and cooperation between the different bodies working for and concerned about the continued survival of the species.

Halting the Import of Animals and Illegal Pet Trade
TortoiseCare works closely with, and assists the Nature Conservation Section (NCS) of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), the government body responsible for nature conservation, to try to stop the illegal trade in Egyptian Tortoises. We have advised the NCS about measures to halt and control the trade in this and other threatened species of wild animals. TortoiseCare and concerned conservationists are actively monitoring the pet trade in Egypt (as much as possible) and alerting the NCS to violations. We are also following up about the illegal trade in Egyptian Tortoises abroad, and encouraging authorities to apply and enforce the provisions of the CITES Convention.

Over the past three years, Sherif Baha El Din, coordinator of TortioseCare has taken part in several Police/NCS raids on pet markets, including a raid where over 200 Testudo kleinmanni plus some T. graeca were confiscated by the Police in January 1997 (see below).

Small numbers of animals are still found occasionally for sale in various pet shops. Most recently, in March 1998, upon a surprise visit to one of the famous Abu Rawash reptile traders, we discovered a big sack with some 100 Egyptian Tortoises being delivered by a local Bedouin from Sidi Barrani (small town on Med. coast 100 km east of Libyan boarder). He had just obtained the animals from Libya. Unfortunately by the time confiscation procedures could be taken, or proper space for the animals to be found, the Bedouin had disappeared along with the animals.

Legal action against violators is still lagging. The police are not interested or motivated in pursuing such "trivial" crimes. The NCS staff dealing with wildlife trade issue amongst other things, are completely dwarfed by the magnitude of the issues at hand. The lack of a management system impedes the effective implementation of the CITES Convention in Egypt. With the increased attempts to enforce regulations the fairly powerful animal traders are resorting to political pressure and highly illegal practices, and even threatening the use of force!

Rehabilitation of Confiscated Animals and Captive Breeding
In January 1997 upwards of 200 Tortoises were confiscated by the Nature Conservation Sector, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) and the Water and Environment Police during a raid of the Tunsi Pet Market in Cairo. These animals had been imported from Libya and were being sold as pets. The confiscated animals were then turned over to Sherif Baha El Din to be released back into the wild.

The confiscated tortoises were then kept on a roof top in Agouza, Cairo, donated by Sherif's father, Mr. Baha El Din Ahmed. Mr. Andy Highfield, a leading tortoise expert and head of the Tortoise Trust, came to Cairo to help with the rehabilitation of the animals, many of which were in extremely bad condition and sick after being transported and kept in sacks with no water or food for weeks probably. As there was concern over overcrowding and spread of disease, 35 Tortoises were transferred to the American College in Cairo (CAC), which lead to the initiation of the CAC Egyptian Tortoise education and captive breeding project. Later the same year Esther Wenman, Head Reptile Keeper, London Zoo visited Egypt with support from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to help in the treatment and rehabilitation of both the Agouza and CAC animals. Both the ZSL and the Tortoise Trust provide medical supplies and food supplements generously.

With private donations rooftops at Agouza and CAC were fixed up for the animals. A removable shade was constructed on the Agouza roof top to help regulate temperatures in winter and summer; and several wooden shelters and boxes were built according to specifications provided by Ms Esther Wenman. Andy Highfield, Anne Lancaster and Rob Campos of the Tortoise Trust visited Egypt on several occasions in 1997and 1998 to assisted with animal husbandry and rehabilitation efforts.

TortoiseCare initially hired an assistant, Ms. Samira Desouki, to help feed and clean-up after the animals 4 times a week; during which she gained much valuable experience in handling them and understanding their needs. The Tortoise Trust subsequently provided funding for Ms. Kaori Odani, a Japanese volunteer, to take care of the tortoises on the roof top in Agouza in order to monitor and improve the health of the animals for the captive breeding and reintroduction programs at Zaranik Protected Area (see below). Kaori's patience, vigilant eye and unlimited care and love for the tortoises has been instrumental in the great improvement of their health. Sherif makes regular visits to the roof top to monitor the condition of the animals and provides medical treatment as necessary. Other persons contributed time and resources: Lisa Clayton looked after the roof top animals in Agouza during the first year. Magda Sharaf El Din helped with tortoise medical issues in the early stages of the program.

There have been reoccurring problems with Runny Nose Syndrome, which a few animals suffered from. But under Kaori's excellent care, the health of most of the animals has remained stable and the illness was kept in check. TortoiseCare hopes that by taking at least half the rooftop animals to the Zaranik Protected Area in North Sinai and reducing crowding on the rooftop, it will help to improve the health of the remaining animals.

During the first year at the Agouza roof top, 40 eggs were laid and 2 eggs produced hatchlings. During the second summer over 120 eggs were laid, of which 11 hatched. Of the 14 babies that hatched, 10 have survived and are doing well and have grown considerably.

Zaranik Protected Area Captive Breeding and Reintroduction Project
Under TortoiseCare, a proposal was developed and donor support sought for the establishment of a captive breeding and reintroduction program at the Zaranik Protected Area in North Sinai, which was part of the tortoise's natural range. This is the first captive breeding and reintroduction project for wild animal in Egypt. Mr. John Warburton helped TortoiseCare develop the proposal and locate donor support.

The Zaranik Protected Area is under the supervision of the Nature Conservation Sector of the EEAA and is one of Egypt's top nature reserves. It protects outstanding wetland and coastal habitats on the North Sinai Mediterranean coast. Zaranik is a lagoon on Lake Bardawil, listed as an "internationally important wetland" under the RAMSAR Convention. It is also a major bottleneck in the autumn for migrating birds and has been listed by BirdLife International as an "Important Bird Area" (IBA). The North Sinai coast, like other coasts in Egypt is undergoing significant development for land reclamation for agriculture, tourism development and urban expansion. The habitats at Zaranik are one of the few Egyptian Tortoise habitats protected. Thus, it was hoped through the project to promote the conservation of the Zaranik Protected Area as the area is threatened by development and other human activities.

The Development Cooperation Division, the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Cairo provided a generous grant to launch the project as part of their small projects program. The project is being conducted in close cooperation with Waheed Salama, Manager, Zaranik Protected Area who is assisting with the local supervision of the captive breeding and reintroduction project.

This project includes:

  • Establishment of enclosures for animals at the reserve,
  • Releasing and monitoring of animals into the wild (by radio tags),
  • Community development programs to encourage local support and involvement in conservation efforts.
  • Education and promotional materials to generate awareness and support for the conservation of the Egyptian tortoise and its habitat.
The Zoological Society of London is a primary partner in this initiative and has been largely responsible for the release and monitoring activity. This included the purchase of radio tracking equipment and expert supervision of the operation. Esther Wenman and Dr. Gian Lorenzo D'Alterio (wildlife veterinarian) initiated this activity on behalf of TortoiseCare and supervised the release of animals at Zaranik (in accordance with IUCN standards) and established a monitoring program to gather scientific data to assess their progress and learn more about the species in the wild. Gian Lorenzo also collected biological samples from captive animals, which will hopefully shed some more light on the parasites and health care of the species.

The Tortoise Trust is likewise playing an active role by setting-up and hosting the project website. Andy Highfield made a month long visit to Egypt in December 1998 to help with the animals and produce a film about the project. Moreover, the Tortoise Trust is helping to raise funds to support this and other TortoiseCare initiatives.

What has taken place to date
A small "experimental" population of Egyptian Tortoises were transferred to Zaranik in the autumn of 1998. Some were radio tagged and released into the wild, while a few were placed into the courtyard of the Visitor Center of the Protected Area to be used for education purposes for visitors to the Protected Area to generate awareness about the species and the project. These tortoises are also being regularly monitored. They have been doing very well and have started mating.

An enclosure 75 x 50 meters divided into three compartments was constructed at Zaranik near the Visitor Center. The enclosed habitat is being lightly watered to help regenerate the plant cover. The Community Guards at Zaranik whom are local bedouins are looking after the facility

Educational and promotional materials have been produced. A logo has been designed. T-shirts, stickers and a poster have been made and will be distributed to the local and national community to generate support for the project.

Planned activities

  • It is expected to release upwards of 60 tortoises into the enclosure in the spring when there is sufficient vegetation.
  • A display will be made at the Visitor Center about the species and conservation efforts.
  • Flier in English and a booklet in Arabic will be produced about the Egyptian Tortoise and the project.
  • Materials will be distributed to the local community and tortoise conservation will be discussed.
  • Community development projects will be launched for the Bedouins living in and near Zaranik, and in North Sinai. Local women will be invited to produce items with tortoise motifs utilizing traditional crafts, such as beadwork and needle point. The items will then be sold by the project and the women will be compensated for their handiwork. This will help raise income for the project, as well as generate local support for conservation efforts.
Establishment of More Tortoise Rehabilitation Facilities
With support from the Netherlands Government, it is planned to establish other Egyptian Tortoise rehabilitation and captive breeding facilities in a suitable locations near Cairo. Under consideration is setting-up and maintaining the facility in cooperation with a private sector business in the field of agriculture. A preliminary agreement has been reached with Wadi Foods company, who has generously agreed to host a small enclosure for the tortoises in their farm on the outskirts of Cairo.

Given the numbers of Egyptian Tortoises still illicitly being traded in Egypt, there is a great need to establish a proper space where animals can be taken care of after confiscation. And since the police will now only surrender confiscated animals to a governmental body, it has become apparent that such a rehabilitation facility would fit very appropriately in one of the Protected Areas just outside Cairo managed by the NCS. This would also facilitate easy access to monitor the animals, and provide them with much better space and conditions than the Giza Zoological Garden where they are currently taken. The facility could also be used for captive breeding. Funds are being sought for the establishment of such a facility.

Networking and Dissemination of Information
Members of TortoiseCare working as advisors to the NCS on nation conservation issues, especially wildlife conservation. They are actively supporting the establishment of a National Hunting and CITES Management System. They often discuss with donors and national and international bodies the plight of the Egyptian Tortoise and the measures needed to conserve it. In addition, to generate awareness on a national and international level, information is being circulated to the mass media in Egypt and abroad about the species and the project. An article about the project appeared in the December 1998 issue of Egypt Today.

TortoiseCare has been networking to improve cooperation and communication with the different persons and bodies concerned with the Egyptian tortoise and its conservation. Contact has been established with national and international organizations and concerned individuals, including The Zoological Society of London, Tortoise Trust, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WASP) and Virgina McKenna (Zoo Check / Born Free Society).

TortoiseCare is now regularly being contacted by persons whom keep tortoises in Egypt and giving medical and other advise about keeping tortoises. The Tortoise Trust also provides information about the care and maintenance of the Egyptian Tortoise.

Halting the Collection and Export from Libya
TortoiseCare has made contact with the Libyan conservation officials. They were informed about the problems faced by the Egyptian tortoise in both Libya and Egypt, of which they were partly aware. Libyan authorities have apparently confiscated some animals at the border crossing at Salum, and released them in Kouf National Park, nearby. This seems to have been an exceptional step however. The Libyans were encouraged to take further similar actions to curb the collection of the animals from the wild and the export to Egypt. The Zoological Society of London and TortoiseCare are planning to develop a proposal for a project to conserve the Egyptian Tortoise in Libya which is now the main range state and has the most important wild populations of the species.


  • More important habitats for the species need to be designated as Protected Areas. Protected Areas are becoming the only natural areas in Egypt where the animals can live without man-made threats and disturbance.
  • More needs to be done to control and monitor the illegal sale of the species in Egypt and abroad
  • The import of the Egyptian Tortoise from Libya into Egypt should be halted.
  • In Libya efforts are needed to protect the tortoise and its habitat.
  • More captive breeding facilities for the tortoises need to be set-up in Egypt and abroad.
  • More education and public awareness are needed to encourage support for conservation efforts. In Egypt public education programs should be developed to encourage people not to purchase the animals and inform individuals having tortoises as pets about their proper care.
Other related projects and efforts:

Sea Turtle Surveys
Sea turtle surveys were conducted last summer along the Mediterranean coast of Egypt as part of a Suez Canal University and University of London Mediterranean Sea Turtle project supported by a grant from the Darwin Initiative. The surveys found that the largest nesting site for sea turtles (Green Turtle) along the entire Egyptian Mediterranean coast was at the eastern boundaries of the Zaranik Protected Area.

GEF Medwet Biodiversity Project
A regional project has been developed by Medwet-United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for the conservation of wetland and coastal ecosystems in the Mediterranean region. This project developed in cooperation with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) selected Zaranik as one of the project sites due to its global importance for biodiversity and will help to develop the management and infrastructure of the Protected Area. The project is scheduled to begin Spring 1999.

DANIDA Environmental Program
Danish government recently announced that biodiversity conservation in the North Sinai will be included as part of its environmental program for Egypt. Support for the Zaranik Protected Area is being considered as part of this program.

Scientific Research
Omar Attum, a Ph.D. candidate, USA has a grant to study the impacts of grazing on reptile populations and natural ecosystems at the Zaranik Protected Area.

About the coordinators of TortoiseCare
Sherif Baha El Din, an advisor to the Nature Conservation Sector of the EEAA, has had a life long concern with the conservation of the Egyptian Tortoises. He has kept and bred the species for almost 30 years. He is now considered a leading expert on the species.

Mindy Baha El Din, is also an advisor to the Nature Conservation Sector, and is the driving force behind much of TortoiseCare activities. She shares her husband's deep concern for the species and for nature conservation at large.