Kinixys belliana, Bell's Hingeback

Kinixys belliana, Uganda local. This captive specimen is currently in a private collection in Thailand.   Photo by Gabriel Mattei.

In the 80's and 90's, "Bell's Hingebacks" were common in the U.S. pet trade.  Except they weren't!

Back then there were at least four distinct species that were lumped as "Bell's Hingebacks".  These tortoises were distinct, had different coloration, behaviors and morphological characters, but they were all lumped as "Bell's Hingebacks".

Eventually, Speke's hingebacks, Kinixys spekii, were elevated to full species, but three others masqueraded as Bell's.

It was until the results of Kindler et. al.'s molecular work was published that the subspecies of Bell's hingeback were elevated to full species.

Today, what we called Bell's Hingebacks before 2012 are now three distinct species.  All three of these species can no longer be imported into the U.S. for any reason.  They, along with Leopard and Sulcata Tortoises, were banned from entering the U.S. in 2000 after they were found to carry a tick that harbored something called heartwater disease, a threat to the U.S. cattle industry.

Three species that were once all "Bell's Hingebacks" are now:

1.  Western Hingeback, Kinixys nogueyi, by far the most common Bell's hingeback imported into the U.S., reside in West Africa, with many imports coming out of Togo and Benin before the year 2000.

2. Eastern Hingeback, Kinixys zombensis. These animals have strongholds along coastal Mozambique and South Africa have distinctive black radiating patterns set against a very light tan base.  They are stunningly beautiful tortoises.  Some of these have probably come in after the ban by mistake with shipments of Kinixys spekii.

3. True Bell's Hingeback, Kinixys belliana.  The species that is now "true belliana" is quite rare in the U.S.  In fact, I have seen no picture that definitely confirms this species is extant in the United States.  If you believe you have a true Bell's hingeback, let me know!  You have a gem on your hands.

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