TV News:
Egyptian Tortoises Get Lease of Life on Cairo Rooftop

June 4, 2001

These days, the tiny Egyptian tortoise is a rare sight in its natural habitat along the coastal deserts of northeastern Africa.

On a rooftop in Cairo, however, the population is growing, thanks to Sherif Baha el-Din and his wife, Mindy. They are co-founders of TortoiseCare, a program with the goal of rehabilitating and protecting the Egyptian tortoise.

"I used to have dreams of finding sort of big heaps of tortoises in the middle of the desert," Baha el-Din told National Geographic Today, "but it never actually happened."

The Egyptian tortoise is one of the world's smallest tortoises. The females often grow to the size of a softball, and males are rarely larger than a baseball.

Not only is the Egyptian tortoise one of the smallest tortoises, it is also one of the most endangered, threatened by development and human encroachment on its natural habitat. An additional problem is that the tortoise, despite an international ban, is still a hot commodity in the local Egyptian pet trade.

Many of the animals are brought over from Libya, where the natural population is larger, and sold in Egypt for less than U.S. $3. They sell well because they are thought to bring good luck, and because many Egyptians, even the police, do not know selling them is illegal. The animals were even advertised recently in an in-flight magazine on Egypt Air, the national airline.

"People actually think they want to go out and buy a whole bunch of animals to help them, but in a way that encourages further trade," comments Baha el-Din.

Steps to Halt Tortoise Smuggling

The Egyptian government, along with some conservation agencies, has taken steps to halt smuggling into the country. In fact, when police confiscated over 200 of the tortoises in January 1997 and dropped them on Baha el-Din's doorstep, TortoiseCare was born.

Since then, Baha el-Din and his wife, with help from the UK's Tortoise Trust and other national and international conservation groups, have worked hard both to protect the tortoise from development and the pet trade, and to rehabilitate the tortoise by breeding them and reintroducing them into the wild.

While the group is still young, the results thus far are positive. In the first year, 40 eggs were laid but only two hatched. By 1999 over 300 eggs were laid and 182 hatched.

Continued on Next Page >>




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