The Eiselt’s Pond Turtle | Turkey
Emys orbicularis eiselti

During collecting expeditions in south Turkey in 1966 and 1972, former custodian of the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Josef Eiselt, collected 4 small, dark, European Pond Turtles close to the Syrian border and brought them to Vienna. Based on these 4 specimens, Prof. Uwe Fritz, described the new taxon Emys orbicularis eiselti in 1998. The following genetic studies showed, that this taxon is the most distinct subspecies of all European Pond Turtles.

It seems likely that Eiselt’s pond turtle was originally widely distributed across the Amik Maras Rift Valley east of the Amanos Mountains (i.e., in the northernmost part of the Dead Sea Rift). The Amik Maras Rift Valley once harbored large marshlands. Today, this marshland system is largely destroyed. For nearly 80 years, wetlands in Turkey have been systematically drained for various reasons, such as agriculture, urbanization, road construction, and prevention of malaria.

Lake Amik exemplifies this situation. The lake covered an area of approximately 35,000 ha in the 19th century and receded to 30,000 ha at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1966, the surface area of the lake was reported as 7000 ha by the State Hydraulic Works (Calıskan 2008; Ozelkan et ¨ al. 2011). Water from the lake and its tributaries was discharged to the Asi River by creating new channels toward the river, and the habitats of E. o. eiselti and other freshwater species dwindled away. In 2007, Hatay Airport was constructed in the center of the former lakebed. Today, only the Asi River and its tributaries serve as a refuge for many freshwater biota.

2012 STATUS (Ayaz et al., 2021):
In their study: “On the Brink of Extinction: Results of a 20-Year Quest for Eiselt’s Pond Turtle (Emys orbicularis eiselti) in Southeastern Turkey” the authors could locate only a very few specimens in small urban ponds very close to the mouth of the Asi (Orontes) river. The last sighting happened in summer 2012. Their supervisor Prof. Ertan Taskavak of Ege University in Izmir explains that survey time may be a waste of time, because all facts show, that the species is already extinct.

Out of the 4 ponds, in which the species could be located 10 years ago, the best was drained in 2018. One of the remaining three ponds is almost entirely filled in with trash. Pond 3 is in the process of being filled in with construction waste.