Testudo werneri is one of the smallest tortoise species in the Mediterranean region, with a historical distribution in northeastern Egypt, Sinai, and parts of the Negev desert in Israel. Populations in Egypt are already practically extinct due to anthropogenic factors affecting the habitat and collection for the pet trade. Currently, T. werneri has a national Israel Red List status of Endangered (EN, A2cd, B). The species' primary habitat, desert sands, is degrading rapidly because of a multitude of human induced factors. Other threats include unnatural predators attracted by human settlements, and collecting for food and pet trade. According to present estimates, the global population has declined by around 95% in less than three generations. The remaining T. werneri population is essentially restricted to an area of around 700 km2 or less in northwestern Negev, Israel. Ten individuals are known from Zaranik in northern Sinai of Egypt. The present population size is estimated at between 2520 and 3150 individuals depending on parameters used, of which around 1890 to 2360 tortoises would be adults. True figures may be considerably less, however. Testudo werneri is clearly threatened by extinction, potentially within decades, but more data are needed for an accurate estimate. The establishment of new nature reserves in the sands of northwestern Negev in conjunction with effective management would enhance the survival prospects of the species, assuming that most of the known threat factors can be addressed. Testudo werneri qualifies globally for listing as Critically Endangered (CR, A2abcde 3de) under current IUCN Red List Criteria; this was recommended and accepted by the IUCN in 2003.
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Vol. 5 • No. 1