They make a repeat appearance every summer, the devastating forest, bush and carpet fires. And every year anew the tortoise habitats around the Mediterranean suffer not only the loss of countless tortoises but entire local populations are eradicated thus.
As recently as in July of 2003, some 2,000 Hermann's tortoises representing the western subspecies Testudo hermanni hermanni were burned to death in the Maure Massif of southern France, according to estimates by the Tortoise Village at Gonfaron.
The pictures shown below were taken after a bushfire that ravaged central Italy in spring of 2003. This is certain to have claimed the lives of hundreds of Hermann's tortoises as well, without the media reporting about it.
The carpet fires that swept through the entire Mediterranean region during the summer months of 2007 reached a magnitude never before recorded. Following official statements, the worst fires in human memory have destroyed some 269,000 hectares of forest and bushland, in Greece and on the Peloponnesus in particular. Newspapers in Italy quoted figures of more than 5,700 carpet fires for 2007, which would represent an increase by some 50 percent compared to the previous year.
All this shows once more that the survival of the small Mediterranean tortoises often hangs from less than a silken thread.
Bushfires have destroyed tortoise habitats and left behind burned-out tortoise shells.
A tortoise habitat two years after a bushfire: The cover of grass regrows relatively quickly, but the maquis, which provides the tortoises with shelter and protection from a scorching sun, recovers only very slowly.
Sardinia in September of 2003: This fire is sure to have claimed the lives of thousands of tortoises.
The picture on the left shows a Testudo hermanni hermanni that has barely escaped a death in the flames. The victim on the right is a burned-out semiadult marginated tortoise.
Even the owners of these two cars did not manage to drive their vehicles to safety in time. Note the No Stopping sign.