Testudo werneri (Perala 2001) Negev Tortoise
Hebrew name: צב-יבשה מדברי, tzav-yabasha midbari
Global Threat: CR (A2abcd) – Critically Endangered
Regional Threat: CR (A2abcd) – Critically Endangered
Distribution area: The tortoises of Israel and Sinai belong to a different species than those in Egypt and Libya (Perala, 2001). The known population in northern Sinai is 10 individuals at Lake Bardawil (Baha El Din, 2002). T. werneri (formerly included in T. kleinmanni) is found in Israel in the northwestern Negev and the Yemin Plain sands.
Historic distribution: On the sands along the Mediterranean coast, from east of the Nile delta, to Northern Sinai up to the western Negev in Israel (Perala 2002). One specimen from southern Sinai, collected at the end of the 19th century, may represent a larger previous distribution area (Perala 2002).
Typical Habitat: Desert sands.
Threat and Disturbance Factors:
1. Habitat destruction by agricultur, sand quarrying and reservoir construction.
2. All-terrain vehicles driving off roads trample tortoises, and damage their habitat.
3. Overgrazing and over-trampling of sandy areas by livestock.
4. Increase in raven, stray dog and jackal populations, increases predation, particularly of juveniles (Mendelssohn 1982; Geffen 1987).
5. Collecting by illegal wildlife traders.
6. Captive tortoises in northern Sinai, originally from Libya, if released into nature could threaten tortoises in northern Sinai and the northern Negev (Perala, 2001).
Population Size: There is no up to date information. Geffen (1985) estimated the population density in the Agur sands at 27 individuals per km2. Mendelssohn (1982) estimated the density in the western Negev at 4-5 tortoises per km2.
Fluctuations in Population Size: The species distribution area in Israel is shrinking with the increasing use of sandy areas in the western Negev for farming or sand quarrying.
Isolation Between Subpopulations: The Yemin Plain tortoises are isolated from the western Negev population. Lone individuals have been found near Yeroham.
Necessary Steps for Species Preservation:
1. Protecting habitats from development by declaration of nature reserves.
2. Enforcing laws that forbid off-road vehicular traffic in protected areas. Reducing off-road vehicular traffic in army training zones.
3. Reducing raven, jackal and stray dog populations.
4. Postponing ostrich reintroduction into western Negev sands until their potential impact on soil crusts and tortoise population is clarified.
5. Increasing enforcement to prevent tortoise collection.