The Egyptian Tortoise is a species with a limited distribution confined to desert areas in northern Egypt, western Negev, Israel and northern Cyrenaica, Libya. It is a ‘coastal’ species, usually not occurring more than 90 kilometers from the coast.
There is a lot of debate on whether there are subspecies. The one thing that all the breeders agree on is that there is only 1 Egyptian tortoise species with different localities. Mixed blood lines based upon distinct features could and does happen. The three locales are from Libya, Egypt and Negav.
“Libyan” tortoises tend to have very dark markings/patterns on their carapace and plastron. They also have darker skin pigmentation. Darker skin is said to coincide with the general soil color from the various regions where the animal comes from. Hence the dark soil in Gebel Akhdar, Libya (northeast coast of Libya). Vegetation cover is also densest in this species range, which could be the reason why the soil is darker.
“Egypt” tortoises tend to have lighter color on their carapace with no patterns on their carapace or plastron. They tend to have a pinkish/orangish color skin. This would make sense since the soil is reddish in their habitat range of Egypt and Cyrenaica (most eastern coast of Libya).
“Negav” tortoises are said to be very light with no patterns on the carapace, but they do have very subtle pattern on their plastron. Their carapace are much lighter (almost albino looking) compared to the true Egyptian’s that came out of Egypt.
There was a field survey done in August of 1994 by Sherif and Mindy Baba El Din (https://www.tortoisetrust.
In 1989 the boarders between Egypt and Libya were opened. This caused a lot of herders and farmers in Libya to collect many tortoises and export them across the boarder for the pet trade in Egypt. Egypt then exported them to the United States for $20 a tortoise and they were sold in the United States for $100-$250 each. Most likely no Egyptian tortoises came out of Israel (Negav) due to the exporting of animals that shut down in the 70’s. That doesn’t mean that smuggling didn’t occur, so there is always a possibility that Negav tortoises came from Israel to Egypt or Libya and then made it to the United States. The really light color Egyptians, most likely were picked from the east coast of North Sinai and exported to the United States and documented coming from Israel due to being taken close to the Egypt/Israel boarder. So basically most Egyptian tortoises came from Egypt or Libya in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In November of 1994, due to the field survey, the Egyptian Government was convinced to upgrade the Egyptian tortoise to Appendix I of CITES. Since then all pet trade of Egyptian tortoises have been prohibited. This is most likely why most Egyptian hatchling tortoises purchased in the United States are from F3 (third generation captive breed adults). Though there are some private breeders who still have some living F2 adults who are producing hatchlings. You just have to seek them out and get on their long waiting list.