The tortoises (Testudinidae) and terrapins (Pelomedusidae) of southern Africa: their diversity, distribution and conservation

  • W.R. Branch
  • G.A. Benn
  • A.T. Lombard


Southern Africa has the richest diversity of land tortoises in the world, as well as an important radiation of pelomedusid terrapins. Total species richness has two epicentres, including the Transvaal lowveld and adjacent KwaZulu/Natal (owing to the prevalence of pelomedusid terrapins) and the Eastern and south-western Cape (owing to small testudinids). The area encompassing Lesotho, Transkei and adjacent regions, lacks testudinids for unknown reasons. Archaeological data indicates that this gap is natural, and not the result of man-induced extinctions. Endemic species are clustered in the Cape, whilst the few threatened species are more widely distributed. The majority of species is well protected in existing reserves. The small number of chelonian species in southern Africa and their relatively well-known distributions, test the efficacy of an iterative reserve selection algorithm. The presence of many allopatric (or nearly so) congeneric species leads to the selection of iterative reserves that protect peripheral populations. To avoid this, marginal records and isolated, peripheral populations should be excluded from the analysis.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2224-073X
print ISSN: 1562-7020