Spur-thighed tortoise

Testudo graeca iberaPallas, 1814

Testudo ibera: Kovachev, 1912: 13-14; Buresch & Zonkov, 1933: 161-164.

Order Cryptodyra

Family Testudinidae

Conservation status: in Bulgaria: Endangered EN [A3ac], BDA-II, III; International: IUCN-VU [A1cd], BeC-II, CITES-II, HD-II, IV.

General distribution. The Mediterranean coasts of Europe and many of the Mediterranean islands; in the east to Western Iran, Syria and Northern Iraq. It is also found along the northern coast of Africa. In the Balkan peninsula it is distributed in its southeastern half.

Distribution and abundance in Bulgaria. It is found almost throughout the country without its northwestern parts; singular individuals may be found there, brought from other places. In the mountains of Southwestern Bulgaria it has been found at altitudes of up to about 1300 m. The density of the populations is heavily influenced by human activity. In large territories in the flattest parts of the country, they are entirely destroyed, in others small scattered populations have remained. There are comparatively well preserved populations in Strandzha, the Eastern Rhodopes and the feet of the mountains around the Petrich-Sandanski valley[1].

Habitats. The populations existing at present mainly inhabit low mountainous and hilly regions, overgrown with bushes and low-stem forests; open grass spaces among them are preferred.

Biology. In May-July it lays 2 or 3 times from 2 to 8 almost ball-like eggs each time, that it buries in holes in the soil [2]. The eggs hatch in 70 100 days. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 11 14 years. The largest and probably the oldest tortoises of both species have been found in Bulgaria [3]. It mainly feeds on grasses, fallen fruits, etc.

Similar species. The Eastern Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) with which it is found together in many places. The tail of T. hermanni is considerably longer and ends in a horn ray.

Negative factors. Man's agricultural activity, especially in the last decades (creation of larger fields, irrigational systems, machine agriculture); elimination of the forms of the microrelief; destruction of the valley forests; collection for food by some groups of the human population, and for "curing", in spite of its proved uselessness. A negative impact is also made by large infrastructure building (motorways, gas pipelines, etc.), construction along the Black Sea coast, forest fires (especially in Southeastern Bulgaria), substitution of deciduous forests with coniferous ones.

Conservation measures taken. Regulations have been passed for a partial or full protection of both species of tortoises in 1961, 1981 and 1986; posters and stickers have been published popularizing their protection in 1985, 2001 and 2005; published in the press and broadcast on radio and TV are many materials concerning the protection of turtles. Many of the populations of the species fall within protected territories.

Conservation measures needed. Large popularization of the nature conservation status of tortoises; strict control and sanctioning the activities of poachers; explanation of the uselessness of "turtle cure"; territorial protection of the places with the densest populations and of separate endangered populations.

References. 1. Beshkov, 1984; 2. Kovachev, 1912; 3. Beshkov, 1997.

Author: Vladimir Beschkov

Spur-thighed tortoise (distribution map)

Spur-thighed tortoise (drawing)