1994 CE • Libya
"One of the world's smallest and most endangered species of tortoises, its numbers have been whittled down by the insatiable global demand for the tiny-shelled reptiles as exotic pets. About the size of a one-pound coin at birth, and seldom exceeding 10cm in length at maturity, customs officers have found these diminutive desert creatures hidden in smugglers’ suitcases, stuffed inside toilet paper rolls, and clumsily disguised as sacks of potatoes. Thousands of Egyptian tortoises are captured and smuggled each year . . . The Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni) historically inhabited the scrub desert and coastal dunes of North Africa . . . But not anymore. An extensive field study carried out in 1994 revealed a sizable population in Libya's Jebel Akhdar region, but failed to locate even a single wild tortoise anywhere in Egypt, its historic heartland . . . Human activities, particularly agriculture and the expansion of tourism, have stripped Egypt’s Mediterranean coast of its most suitable tortoise habitats. There is increasing competition with herders for the sparse vegetation on the land that remains . . . Man has also inadvertently introduced new predators." Rats often feed on the tiny tortoises, dogs commonly mistake them for chew toys, and ravens that have found more nesting opportunities due to development often prey on hatchlings.
Cam McGrath, "Endangered Species: The Egyptian Tortoise," Egypt Independent, December 8, 2011.
Image: Hatem Moushir, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons