Hermann’s Tortoise

Testudo hermanni


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Not evaluated Data deficient Least concern Near threatened VULNERABLE Endangered Critically endangered Extinct in the wild Extinct
Assessment info
Habitat and Ecology
Use and Trade
Conservation Actions


Scientific name

Testudo hermanni


Gmelin, 1789


Testudo hercegovinensis Werner, 1899; Testudo hermanni ssp. robertmertensi Wermuth, 1952

Assessment info

IUCN Red List Category and Criteria

VU – Vulnerable, A3d

Date assessed

November 2019


Arsovski, D.

Sterijovski, B.


Ajtic, R.




Hofman, M.P.G.


The Hermann’s tortoise is likely the best researched reptile species of the Republic of North Macedonia. As such, crucial demographic parameters allowing for population simulations are readily available, allowing for an assessment based on population size reduction and geographic range criteria, rather than only the latter.

Known survival and fecundity data from Macedonian populations (see Habitat and Ecology section) were integrated in a deterministic pre-breeding population matrix model (Caswell, 2001) in order to simulate the relationship between population growth (λ) and adult survival under threats that can remove significant portions of a population, such as illegal harvest (see Threats section). Simulations demonstrate that a population is self-sufficient only when 89% or more of the adult individuals survive annually. When survival of adult males and females drops below this threshold, the population starts to decline. While relatively high survival rates in North Macedonia have been recorded (0.95-0.97) from populations residing in a protected area, compared to most populations that live under strong anthropocentric pressures these are likely an overestimation. Roadkill and especially illegal harvesting are likely to have a severe impact on survival in most populations (see Threats section). In such cases, assuming an adult survival value of 88% would be reasonable. In fact, taking into account natural sources of mortality, such as predation and wildfires, an average national survival probability of 88% may even seem conservative.

Given the generation time of 25 years (see Habitats and Ecology section), population reduction was calculated over 75 years (3 generations). Assuming a survival rate of 88%, a reduction of more than 30% is predicted within 75 years (30.3% after 64 years), which qualifies the national Hermann’s tortoise populations for the Vulnerable category under criterion A3d.

Western and central Balkan populations are under similar threats and likely decreasing (Ljubisavljević et al.2011; Nikolić et al. 2018); moreover, Hermann’s tortoises have limited dispersal capabilities and pronounced homing behavior (Bertolero et al. 2011), hugely reducing the chance of a rescue effect that could otherwise justify a downlisting of the category due to regional IUCN assessment corrections.

Having in mind the reduction in population size of western Europe’s tortoise subspecies (Testudo hermanni hermanni), it is not difficult to imagine that its populations likely went through a similar scenario – the apparently prosperous (numerous) extant Macedonian populations (Testudo hermanni boettgeri) are under pressures that have tipped them beyond the threshold of sustainability. The longevity of the species makes it difficult to witness this without proper demographic estimates and simulations. A continuously studied Macedonian island population can very well attest to this notion – it is currently among the densest Hermann’s tortoise populations in the world (~58 adult indivudals/ha in Bonnet et al., 2016) and therefore seemingly prosperous, but its fate has been sealed due to low adult female survival (Arsovski, 2018). A recent publication strongly corroborates these notions and similarly recommends an up-scaling of the IUCN categorization of the entire subspecies T. hermanni boettgeri to Vulnerable (Nikolić et al. 2018).

In order to avoid the scenario where Macedonian populations suffer the same fate as those from Western Europe (e.g. the Var population in France is classified as Endangered [Bertolero et al. 2011]) a timely assignment of the Vulnerable status could hopefully spark a chain of conservation events, nationally, that could ameliorate current trends by putting a halt on some of the devastating trade, imposing stricter control on farms, identifying more priority areas for protection, etc.

Golem Grad Hermann’s tortoise population assessment: CR A3b; B1ab (v)+B2ab(v)

A3b: Population simulations taking into account adult population size (from census data – 89 females and 993 males in Arsovski, 2018), population-specific juvenile age-specific survival (Arsovski et al. 2018), estimated adult female survival/mortality (0.86 vs. 0.97 in males in Arsovski [2018]) and the extremely biased sex ratio (Bonnet et al. 2016) estimate a population size reduction of more than 90% in the next 80 years (broadly three generations [75 years]), qualifying it for the Critically Endangered category.

B1ab (v)+B2ab(v): Both AOO and EOO are 0.2km(the surface area of the island, that is entirely inhabited by tortoises) and the population is completely isolated – it is an island population of land tortoises with no probability of recolonization in case of extinction. Furthermore, there is a projected decline in mature individuals.

This population is of immense research significance, already evident from the amount of research revealing life-history parameters and evolutionary phenomena previously unknown for this species, and for the numerous theses published over its study. Moreover, it paints a very explicit picture of how a very dense (Bonnet et al. 2016) and seemingly prosperous population is well on its way to extinction – likely an occurrence on a much larger (Balkan) scale for this species, fueled by illegal traffic, road mortality and habitat degradation. Having all this in mind, along with the fact that this population is completely isolated, we believe it merits its own separate assessment and therefore conservation attention.

Globally and in Europe, this species has been assessed as Near threatened.


Current population trend



In North Macedonia the population size is not accurately determined. The abundance of the species is variable across the country, spanning from the highest known species-specific population densities (100-150 individuals/hectare) in protected areas (Bonnet et al., 2016; Arsovski, 2018)  to average densities (10-15 individuals/hectare) and even lower densities in populations severely affected by habitat destruction resulting in heavy fragmentation and/or collection for illegal trade in the south-eastern and eastern parts of the country (unpublished observations). National population size is estimated at 17.000.000 coming from the rough estimate of an approximate average national density of 10 individuals per hectare, with 1.700.000 hectares of suitable habitat (unpublished data).

On Golem Grad Island 1.285 adult tortoises were marked; population estimates from capture-recapture data add up to a total of ~1896 adult individuals (1,737.60 [SD=15.94] males and 159.45 [SD=7.8] females, Arsovski, 2018). These estimates revealed the densest known population of this species at 105,4 (SD=0,98) adult individuals per hectare.

Habitat and Ecology



Habitat and Ecology

The Hermann’s tortoises prefers shrubs, or openings in thermophilic forests, in North Macedonia most often oak or degraded forests of predominantly Jerusalem spine (Paliurus spina-christi) and/or False acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia). It enjoys habitats with preserved mosaic structures with both open patches and such with dense bush where it can hide during the warmest parts of hot summer days. It can sometimes venture into arable land, particularly vineyards and sometimes orchards, or even urban parks (Speybroeck et al., 2016; personal observations).
Juvenile age-specific annual survival probabilities steadily increase from ~0.3 at birth to a plateau of ~0.9 at five years of age (Arsovski et al. 2018), with adult annual survival probabilities within the range of 0.85-0.91. Females produce an average of 4.3 eggs (Arsovski 2018, Bertolero et al. 2011).

Use and trade

Use and trade

Large numbers of animals are captive-bred by hobbyists and distributed within the hobbyist community. In Macedonia animals are bred in tortoise farms. Currently six tortoise farms operate in the country (Nikolić et al. 2018).

Ljubisavljević et al. (2011) reported ~ exported tortoises from Yugoslavia in a 41-year period; Export was apparently put under more control after CITES and strict regulations from the EU, but nevertheless, recently, 2017 and 2016 reports from the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of North Macedonia testify to 35.147 and 25.250 exported Hermann’s tortoises from the country, respectively. CITES reports on earlier years broadly corroborate these notions (e.g. 31.522 and 25.946 individuals in 2016 and 2015, respectively [acquired from]).

These reports also testify to the discrepancies in reported export numbers between sources and hints at the likelihood of the much more devastating proportions of unreported and unseized illegally trafficked animals. There are also often big discrepancies between numbers reported from importer and exporter countries (for more details please download and see some of the reports at



The main threats are: loss of habitat due to agricultural expansion and intensification; agro-chemicals and other pollution impacts; urbanization and tourist infrastructure development; wildfires; collection for pet trade; genetic pollution; road mortality; and potentially disease impacts from released pet tortoises (Stubbs et al. 1985).

In North Macedonia overcollection is likely the biggest threat, especially if we recognise that in the lack of strict control legal tortoise-farms can easily be used as platforms that facilitate the export of wild-caught individuals (Nikolić et al. 2018). Namely, while legally traded animals are reported to come from breeding farms in the country, controlling the real origin of exported tortoises is nearly impossible. Although according to the obtained work license farmers are obliged to mark their farm-born, in situ this is not the case (all farmers claim to annually paint-mark only the individuals from the basic reproductive flock). Control for the origin of exported tortoises from farms is thus impossible. Additionally, farmers are required to get an expert opinion on the condition of exported animals (control of age structure, numbers of exports, etc.), but it is up to the farmer to choose the expert/institution they will hire, which is an obvious conflict of interest; one that does not bode well for tortoises. Finally, reports only testify to numbers of exported animals and their alleged age, but not to their size. According to the farmers, larger tortoises get a higher asking price and the USA and Canada do not import individuals smaller than 10cm. Having in mind that tortoises take about six to ten years to reach this size, and there is no way of checking whether an individual is wild-caught, there is great incentive to take from the wild. Allegations between farmers are also very common, as few openly reported that they cannot compete with “smugglers taking from the wild”, as well as some of their “competition that uses their farms as platforms for the legal transport of wild-caught adult tortoises”.

Obtained tortoise life-history data from the visit of all six national tortoise farms gave us insight into the maximum quantity that their combined effort can produce annually for export. In the best-case scenario (farmer estimates of hatching success and survival of neonates) 34.322 tortoises can be produced. Nevertheless, estimates from farmer-reported life-history data do not coincide with their reported maximum quantity of exported tortoises; adjusting with observed numbers of produced eggs and/or neonates annually adds up to a production of 22.075 individuals. It should be noted that these are still estimates from farmers’ reports of best years (i.e. maximum production). The lack of systematic inspections from authorized institutions allows for severe manipulation, leaving room for huge doubt.

Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning of Republic of North Macedonia (MOEPP) is making efforts to maintain regular visits and contact with tortoise farms and lend their advice and suggestions to the farmers. Additionally, MOEPP acts as a mediator of cooperation between all persons and institutions concerned with tortoise farming (MOEPP, farmers, tortoise experts, veterinary inspections) with the goal of improving practices and putting a halt to illegal collection from the wild.

All threats listed for this species are included in the “List of priority threats to biological diversity” in the “Strategy for biodiversity of Republic of North Macedonia” (Ministry of environment and physical planning, 2019).

Conservation actions

Conservation actions

It is listed on Annex II of the Bern Convention and on Annex II and IV of the EU Habitats Directive. It appears on the list of nationally protected wild species.



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