Reptile Species in Old Books on Reptile Keeping

I gradually realised in the 1950s that many of the species described by the authors of book on keeping reptiles that some of the species described never appeared on the market. Now, by comparing what dealers like Robert Jackson had in the late 1940s and early 1950s when many of the book were written, it is easy to see why. Books reflected what had been available before the books were written. Many species were never imported again.

Several books of the 1950s describe the keeping of South African tortoises like Chersina angulata, Homopus areolatus and even the now critically endangered Psammobates geometricus. They seemed to have been popular because they were much smaller than the Mediterranean species imported in vast numbers by the pet trade. However, it is now quite clear why we never saw them on a dealer’s list. As the Aquarist of March 1950 explained, their export from South Africa was banned:

It has recently been reported that the Cape Government of South Africa, perturbed at the numbers of tortoises leaving that country, and doubtful of the treatment that these are receiving in the hands of overseas buyers, has now decided prohibit further exports.

I have never seen a South African tortoise but I remember Professor Gideon Louw (1930-2004) of the University of Stellenbosch and then the University of Cape Town telling me lots about them when he spent a year working along the corridor from my lab.


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