By James Cornett
James Cornett recently returned from the arid regions of Turkey. This is the second in a three-part series on his experiences.
The deadly cobra was not the only reptile I saw.
Wandering among the broken columns, facades and statues of one of Turkey’s 2,000-year-old cities we found a spur-thighed tortoise, known to herpetologists as Testudo graeca. We only saw it because it moved. I could not help but compare it with our local and indigenous desert tortoise. The spur-thighed tortoise is smaller, has a more colorful shell (though still subdued and not easily seen by predators) and has front feet less obviously adapted for digging.
Also like the desert tortoise, the spur-thighed tortoise is a threatened species. Unlike our tortoise, however, its populations have been decimated not because of disease but as a result of the exotic pet trade. Although some tortoise sales are technically legal, others are not. Many less developed countries in which the spur-thighed tortoise occurs either do not yet have adequate protection laws or lack the ability to enforce the ones they have. Even developed nations like Turkey have a tough time protecting their wildlife in spite of laws. It is fairly easy to capture tortoises, hold them without care for weeks because of their low metabolic rate and transport them across largely unmarked and rarely patrolled borders. In the end, it is essentially up to local peoples to inform officials when poaching is observed or suspected not just in Turkey, but anywhere in the world.
Our little spur-thighed tortoise was feeding on grass that remained green through the hot, dry summer by obtaining winter moisture trapped in the soil beneath broken Roman columns. The small reptile seemed quite oblivious to me as it walked slowly past my shoe. In a similar situation, a wild desert tortoise would retreat into its shell for up to a half hour before attempting an escape.
Our tortoise probably aestivated through much of the summer; not unlike the desert tortoise. More....