SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: PREPARING TO ESTIVATE YOUR TORTOISE

Testudo Kleinmanni has the unique distinction of being the only Temperate, Terrestrial Tortoise which rests during the summer heat in a period of aestivation, and is more active during the winter. There is some evidence that this period of quiet during hot summer months may play a key role in preparing the animal to breed. As noted elsewhere on this page, this keeper feels rather strongly that it is incumbent upon those of us who keep kleinmanni to provide every opportunity for the possibility of breeding and all supportive husbandry to encourage its happening.

A page on aestivation will be added to this site at a later time after further research. My preliminary observation is that encouraging aestivation will in large measure depend on simulating to significant degree those climate patterns, changes, and extremes to which kleinmanni are subject in the wild. "Fooling" the animals into their own genetic memory and an instinct about winter sun and moderate rains followed by the dry heat of summer, the abundance of winter forage followed by summer scarcity, will be critical in stirring the animals' urge to aestivate. This attention to the native range circannual rhythms has been borne out not only in my own experience with the animals. An article in the German journal "Radiata" describes the experiences of a European keeper of Testudo Kleinmanni which parallels this experience exactly (Fritzsche and Fritzsche, 2002).

Further reflections and data bearing on the importance of the circannual rhythm for these animals can be found in the box below titled "You Can Take the Tortoise Out of the Wild," as well on the Climate Page on this website! To link to that page, click on the photograph below of Kofi the Sphinx, guardian of the links.

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CLICK ON THE TORTOISE TO LINK TO THE CLIMATE PAGE

The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
Life in Captivity
kleinmanni home | golden beauties | desert life | climate's role | captive needs | unique diet | Captive Habitat 1: basics | Captive Habitat 2: habitat development | Breeding | hatchling care | when something goes wrong | natural and un-natural history | All in the family | captive behaviors | tortoise links | references

Because T. kleinmanni emerges from the litoral margins between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert, it has unique needs in terms of climate and microclimate. Its particularly delicate nature as a species creates special needs if it is to be kept as part of a larger collection. Its size demands that keepers be particularly vigilant about animal health, as decline can proceed more rapidly in a small animal.

MEET THE VETERINARIAN

As with any new tortoise, each new kleinmanni in the collection goes to the veterinarian for a look over and general health check. Even hatchlings get fecal checks done. Adults are checked for worms and other parasites at least annually. I'm lucky to have known my tortoises' vet for almost 10 years. Every keeper should be so fortunate. Every kleinmanni keeper needs an excellent veterinarian!

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HABITAT SPACE AND CAREFUL HABITAT MANAGEMENT

Yes, it's a small tortoise. But it needs room. A pair of animals should have no less than eight square feet. Every additional animal added to a single habitat warrants the addition of an extra two to four square feet minimum. Within the space, several hide pots need to be provided at various locations both nearer and further from the habitat's principal heat source.

Overall, the habitat should be maintained fairly dry, around 30% relative humidity. Within the habitat, at least one sizeable micro-habitat needs to be provided that has a significantly higher humidity factor, as high as 60% (Frietsche, 2002). This give the kleinmanni choices about where they can hang out. A UVB source should be provided at all times, and can often be combined with a heat source. Within the habitat, a warm basking spot of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit should be provided, with access to other parts of the habitat at least 15-20 degrees cooler.

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STRIP THERMOMETERS ADHERED TO LOOSE TILES MAKE IT EASY TO CHECK TEMPS ANYWHERE IN THE HABITAT

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SUBSTRATE DECISIONS

Keepers of kleinmanni in the West swear by all nature of different substrates for their animals. Some prefer a mixture of sand and soil, others pure sand, others some combination of straw and other material. Yet another group, myself included, prefers crushed oyster shell for the solidity of its surface texture, the desiccating and drying nature of the stuff itself, and it's more or less pure calcium carbonate chemistry.

STRICT ISOLATION OF SPECIES

T. kleinmanni is by its nature an extremely sensitive organism, easily susceptible to foreign pathogens. One of the great problems in tortoise collections is the possibility that an animal from one continent will pass along a bug with which it has evolved a commensal relationship to an animal from another part of the world that has no resistance to it.

Kleinmanni are especially susceptible and easily devastated by cross infection of this sort. Every effort must be taken to maintain isolation of the species if they are being kept as part of a larger collection. While this should be second nature for all keepers and true of all species, it's an absolute essential here.

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OUTDOOR LIFE OR HABITAT

Away from its native habitat, it is not always possible to maintain T. kleinmanni out of doors. The luxury of living in Southern California is that my kleinmanni have a climate here that mirrors that of coastal Egypt day-by-day, night by night, season by season, almost 365 days a year. They do not have permanent outdoor accommodations here, but the climate means they can be out several times weekly for several hours of sunlight, grazing on the lawn, and fresh air activity.

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PROVISION FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF BREEDING

Warning: You have now entered the opinion zone. It is almost unthinkable to keep this species and not at least make provision for a possibility of breeding. There are too few of these fine animals left in the world to pull any one of them out of the breeding gene pool on purpose. While captive breeding is a challenge with the kleinmanni, there is a growing success rate among private breeders. This ongoing private effort, along with a new research program in captive behavior and breeding of Testudo kleinmanni at the Baltimore Zoo both lend hope for the preservation of the genome.

YOU CAN TAKE THE TORTOISE OUT OF THE WILD,
BUT YOU CAN'T TAKE THE WILD OUT OF THE TORTOISE

Testudo kleinmanni is only one of many species adversely affected by over-harvesting for the pet trade and other illegal purposes. Taken from their unique environments around the world, captive tortoises of all species face special challenges in adapting to new homes in foreign lands. Their internal circannual clocks will be thrown off as their latitude changes. Their daily rhythms and patterns of daylight and shadow, the inclination of their sunlight, the temperature and humidity around them, all change when they come to a new place.

The same is true for long term captives and captive bred generations of those tortoise species that have evolved and adapted to specialized niches in their native environments. The genetic memory of these animals for the ecological patterns in which their species developed is deep and wide. Are they adaptable? Yes. But everything from their lungs and their sensitivity to moisture and dryness on one hand, to the thickness of their skin and the rate at which their scales allow all for the transpiration of body moisture has been shaped by the climate and annual rhythms in which their ancestors lived. For T. kleinmanni, this has meant passing from its arid desert niche to climates that are mostly damper, cooler, and less full of clear, bright sun. Even when (if) their daily rhythm changes over a generation, their basic need for a climactic rhythm never goes away. It's built in. Generations later, captive bred kleinmanni specimens still want to go quiet and estivate during the summer.

As with any tortoise, the best care is based on our knowledge of the animal's need in its native setting, and our best, learned attempt at duplicating ways to meet those needs in the captive setting. With Testudo kleinmanni, this is sometimes made it more difficult by an absence of thorough information. Wild population studies were never adequately done while sufficient populations existed in the wild to establish baseline needs for these animals. Much of our evidence is anecdotal and observational. There are no double blind studies on behavior or nutrition. We learn by trial and error as the animals themselves teach us their needs.

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"You can't trample infidelswhen you're a tortoise.I mean, all you could do isgive them a meaningful look."

-- Terry Pratchett, "Small Gods"

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The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
Fred L. Erwin, Jr., 2004 - 2005 C.E.