Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 6:34-35
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

The Turtles of Russia and Other Ex-Soviet Republics (Former Soviet Union), by Serguis L. Kuzmin. 2002. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt am Main. 8.5 x 6 in., 159 pp. Hardcover, Price: US $44.50, Euros 34.80 (approx. $35.00 U.S)

Reviewed by John P. Levell
NorthStar Herpetological; P.O. Box 389; Lanesboro, MN 55949-0389; USA;

Since beginning to produce books in English, publisher Edition Chimaira of Frankfurt am Main, Germany has released a number of volumes on regional herpetofaunas that are poorly known to many American and British readers. These include titles on the amphibians and/or reptiles of Europe (Nečas, et al., 1997; Corti and Lo Cascio, 2002), the Middle East (Disi, et al., 2001), Africa (Schiřtz, 1999; Rödel, 2000), and Southeast Asia (David and Vogel, 1996). Each of these volumes, in its own way, has done much to bridge the often-conspicuous geographic gaps evident among more readily available English language herpetological publications.

The recent release of Turtles of Russia and Other Ex-Soviet Republics continues this now firmly established Edition Chimaira tradition. In fact this slim volume, perhaps even more so than its predecessors, provides coverage of an area that has been largely ignored in the herpetological literature accessible to those only capable of readingEnglish. At the same time, this well illustrated little book represents the first comprehensive English review of the seven chelonian species known to inhabit Russia and the other Republics of the former Soviet Union.

While possibly viewed as a detraction by some, the small number of species covered is in reality (in this reviewer’s opinion anyway) among the book’s strongest assets. This allows room for the development of relatively extensive species accounts, an advantage that author Serguis Kuzmin of the Russian Academy of Sciences has exploited quite fully. For example, his review of the Central Asian Tortoise, Agrionemys (= Testudo) horsfieldii, includes 14 pages of text and overall occupies 27 of the book’s 159 pages.

Individual accounts for the region’s other terrestrial and freshwater chelonians are similarly lengthy as well. These include 17 pages devoted to the Mediterranean Spur- thighed Tortoise, Testudo graeca, 15 pages on the Chinese Softshell, Pelodiscus sinensis, and an almost unbelievable 29 pages on the European Pond Turtle, Emys orbicularis. The extensiveness of this latter species account is also largely responsible for the comparative brevity of Kuzmin’s 8-page review of the Caspian Turtle, Mauremys caspica, as much relevant information on this species is included in his examination of Emys orbicularis. An additional 5 pages on the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, and 4 pages on the Leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea, complete the species reviews.

All told, Kuzmin’s seven species accounts occupy exactly 105 of his book’s pages. Considering Freiberg’s well-respected review of South American turtles covered more than 40 species in a total of a mere 125 pages (Freiberg, 1981), the amount of space Kuzmin has allocated to each of his species reviews becomes even more astounding.

Focusing primarily on data relevant to the territories encompassed within the former Soviet Union, Kuzmin’s species accounts, not surprisingly, provide a wealth of information on the distribution, subspecific and/or geographic variation, habitats, habits, natural enemies, and parasites of each of the region’s seven turtles and tortoises. In doing so, Kuzmin has concisely synthesized the vast body of data collected by previous Russian researchers, virtually none of which has been available in English before. This data is further supplemented by Kuzmin’s research and personal observations.

Accounts also include general species descriptions, distribution maps, and a multitude of color photographs of both the animals and their habitats. Totaling 68 in number, these color photos are invariably of good to excellent quality. Additional illustrations in the form of nine b/w photographs, four text figures, and three tables are scattered throughout the text as well.

Rounding out the text are the almost obligatory opening comments on turtle morphology, evolution, and biogeography, and brief closing chapters on captive care and regional chelonian conservation. This latter chapter should prove of particular value, as it provides numerical data and other relevant comments and recommendations on the commercial exploitation and conservation of Soviet turtles and tortoises. Naturally, a complete bibliographic listing of all literature cited has been included as well.

Overall the text is very neatly laid-out and is surprisingly free of typographic or factual errors, although the problems with English syntax and translation so common in most publications produced in countries where English is not the primary language still crop up on occasion. Luckily, this is only problematic in the chapter on captive care (what exactly “force-meat” is, for example, is impossible to determine) and should provide few difficulties for careful readers elsewhere in the book. Paper quality is quite good as well, while the binding certainly meets or exceeds that of most other titles bound within illustrated boards.

All things considered, Turtles of Russia and Other Ex- Soviet Republics is clearly a very worthy edition for the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in Eurasian turtles and tortoises. In particular those working with Emys orbicularis, Agrionemys horsfieldii, and/or Testudo graeca, whether in captivity or in the wild, should find Kuzmin’s book exceedingly valuable and will undoubtedly want a copy for their libraries.

Literature Cited
Corti, Claudia and Lo Cascio, Pietro. 2002. The Lizards of Italy and Adjacent Areas. Edition Chimaira. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

David, Patrick and Vogel, Gernot. 1996. The Snakes of Sumatra: Annotated Checklist, Key and Biological Notes. Edition Chimaira. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Disi, Ahmad M., Modrý, David, Nečas, Petr, and Rafai, Lina. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: An Atlas and Field Guide. Edition Chimaira. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Freiberg, Marcos. 1981. Turtles of South America. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Neptune, NJ.

Nečas, Petr, Modrý, David, and Zavadil, Vit. 1997. Czech Recent and Fossil Amphibians and Reptiles. Edition Chimaira. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Schiřtz, Arne. 1999. Treefrogs of Africa. Edition Chimaira. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Rödel, Mark-Oliver. 2000. Herpetofauna of West Africa, Vol. 1: Amphibians of the West African Savanna. Edition Chimaira. Frankfurt am Main, Germany.