At this time of years FETHIYE’s tortoises come out of hibernation and sleepy though they may be, they are on the prowl, enjoying a snack on the spring greenery, warming their shells in the sunshine and probably in search of a mate.

Motorists, please keep a look out for Fethiye's tortoises

But, although their habits have remained unchanged for thousands, if not millions, of years, their natural habitat has changed dramatically.

Spring time is tortoise time

On the prowl
On the prowl

Nowadays, as a tortoise travels around its territory, doing whatever it is tortoises do, more often than not at some point on its journey, it will encounter a road.

And when a tortoise meets a car, lorry or bus, on what to a tortoise is a massive stretch of tarmac that has to be crossed, it’s inevitably the tortoise that comes off worst.

So, motorists, please remember to keep a lookout for these remarkable, if very slow, creatures.

The forests and countryside around Fethiye has been a favoured habitat for Turkish tortoises for millennia.

Humans have been living side by side with this gentle reptile for many thousands of those years but the last decade has seen the town’s population grow exponentially with the inevitable increase in roads, traffic and buildings, all of which encroach on the tortoises’ environment. What were once forested hillsides and pastures are now suburbs and fast highways.

Motorists, please keep your eyes peeled for Fethiye's tortoises

This means that tortoises are constantly at risk at this time of year, particularly from cars. Most Turkish drivers will stop when they see a tortoise on the road and move it to a safer place but sometimes the tortoises are not seen until it is too late.

Presumably, while no one would deliberately run over a tortoise, for visitors to Fethiye, who are not used to seeing these creatures in their natural habitat, they are an unusual sight, and one that motorists are not expecting to see, especially in the middle of the road.

Two types of tortoise

The most commonly seen species of Turkish tortoises hereabouts are spur thighed – Testudo (graeca) ibera.

The other species is the Hermann’s tortoise – Testudo hermanni.

If you want to learn how to tell them apart, read to the end of this story.

Motorists, please keep your eyes peeled for Fethiye's tortoises

Left to their own devices and provided they have enough food and water, tortoises generally have life spans comparable with those of human beings, and some individuals are known to have lived for as many as 150 years.

In most tortoise species, the female tends to be larger than the male. The male plastron is curved inwards to aid reproduction. The easiest way to determine the sex of a tortoise is to look at the tail. The females, as a general rule, have smaller tails, dropped down, whereas the males have much longer tails, which are usually pulled up and to the side of the rear shell.

How to move a tortoise – safely

If you decide to move a tortoise from a busy road please be very careful. Stopping your car in the middle of the road could cause an accident, so if you see a tortoise that needs to be moved, pull over to the side first. Keep a careful look out for other vehicles before picking up the tortoise. Take the tortoise to the side of the road towards which it is already heading (they are determined creatures and will immediately set out on the same risky journey if they’re put back to the side of the road where they came from) and place it facing away from the road, as far away from the road as possible. This way there is at least a chance it wont head back into the traffic. Also remember that tortoises do carry ticks, so wash your hands after touching them, or rinse with lemon cologne or a wet wipe.

What to do if you find an injured tortoise

Sadly, this happens from time to time but if you have transport you can take the tortoise to DEKAMER. This is the Iztuzu based NGO that looks after sea turtles but they are also fully equipped and happy to look after poorly tortoises too. Click on this link to access contact details.

How to tell them apart

spur-thighed tortoise

Mediterranean spur-thghed tortoise (Shutterstock)
Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise (Shutterstock)

Large symmetrical markings on the top of the head
Large scales on the front legs
Undivided carapace over the tail
Notable spurs on each thigh
Isolated flecks on the spine and rib plates
Dark central fleck on the underside
Shell somewhat oblong rectangular
Widely stretched spinal plates
Movable posterior plates on underside

Hermann’s tortoise

Testudo graeca ibera
Testudo graeca ibera

Only small scales on the head
Small scales on the front legs
Tail carapace almost always divided
No spurs
Isolated flecks only on the spinal plates
Two black bands on the underside
Oval shell shape
Small spinal plates
Fixed plates on underside

Motorists, please keep a look out for Fethiye's tortoises

Thanks to Maren Lueg for our headline photo.