Endangered Desert Tortoise - Tom Porter

well the desert tortoise is basically

california state reptile and this is a

species that again for the last twenty

thousand years has made a successful

living in the probably one of the

harshest places on the planet the Mojave

and Sonoran deserts and they do this by

living underground most of the year so

desert tortoise our herbivores they only

eat vegetation and there were widespread

throughout the California and deserts

but abound in the 70s we started seeing

their numbers plummet and desert

tortoises have a lifespan that's very

similar to humans and that they can live

to the close to a hundred of years old

in nature and takes them a long time to

actually get old enough to be able to

produce babies and so when we started

seeing the numbers precipitously decline

in the 1970s it was a real red flag that

there were major problems going on with

the desert tortoise I'd always love

turtles and tortoises as a kid and a

desert tortoise was basically one right

in my backyard because I grew up in

California so I would go out as a kid

and you can see them out in the Mojave

Desert walking around eating wild

flowers and to hear that they were the

numbers were crashing was very

concerning they're sort of a keystone

species for the desert and so that

suggests that there's something else

going on in the desert as well that was

problematic and compromising the whole

integrity of that he coats

so basically I got involved desert

tortoise than trying to make sure that

they get theirs again coming back to

habitat that there's enough habitat out

there for these animals to survive and

reproduce unfortunately for the desert

tortoise we're continuing to see

declines even though they're under

Endangered Species Act protection their

numbers are continuing to decline

throughout California and Nevada in

terms of grave concern there's a number

of reasons why the populations are

crashing part of the problem is because

their habitat is being converted into

other uses whether that be poorly cited

agricultural practices whether that be

offering vehicles running over tortoises

and burros whether that be roads just

fragmenting the landscape there's a

number of reasons people had had pet

tortoises and released them back into

the wild so with them they carried

series of diseases that the wild

tortoises weren't accustomed to

there's been die off because of diseases

it's basically gone for the western part

of the Mojave Desert and swept for the

whole population and that's caused a

major fool when you're having large

adult reproductively active tortoises

dying you're not getting any babies

another problem has been predation

predation by what we call subsidized

predators those are animals that do best

around humans and because additional

humans are living out in the desert and

being out there leaving their trash etc

it gives opportunities for these animals

to reach much higher levels of

populations than they would normally be

at so we have to be very mindful when we

go to these places to pick up our trash

not leave water out and available to

these to these very wily coyotes and

ravens and so that's been another part

of the problem and then just development

in in places where that our strongholds

of tortoise habitat is also venom

I helped the desert tortoise by trying

to conserve their habitat making sure

that intact landscapes stay intact in

areas where tortoises are currently

living and try to help restore other

areas so that tortoises have additional

habitat to move into a live successfully

reproduce so a lot of that involves

again looking at different projects that

are proposed on desert landscapes and

minimizing those impacts to tortoises

and their habitats I go into the desert

of frequently during the spring because

that's when tortoises are most active

most of the rest of the year they hang

out in their underground burrows and you

don't see them at all but during the

spring is when they're out and about

eating wild flowers that's their


and so certainly in my experience out in

the desert going out and looking for

tortoises I mean it's incredible that

these relatively large animals slow

moving out on the landscape are very

hard to find and they when you do see

them into you and see them only when

they're moving so it's always a thrill

for me to actually see a desert tortoise

moving across the landscape and it's

particularly rewarding when you go out

during the spring and the little baby

tortoises have just hatched out the

desert tortoise is still struggling in

California and Nevada deserts and we're

snell seeing a similar thing for the

populations in Arizona and numbers are

declining the species are not nearly as

common on the landscape as they were

even 30 years ago so there's definitely

problems for the desert tortoise out

there I think we need to put significant

investments in keeping areas where

desert tortoise are thriving free from

any stressors any developments and

keeping those tortoises in good shape so

that they will have an opportunity to

repopulate areas that currently their

numbers are declining in because of

their long lifespans this takes quite a

while to see any improvement in desert

tortoise reproductive capacity

one other thing I'd like to add about

desert tortoises is that there are a

number of desert tortoises that are in

captivity and being raised in captivity

and they do fairly well in people's

backyards as long as people recognize

that they're not going to be above

ground for most of the year they're

going to go underground one of the key

things though is to not take these

animals that have been raised in

captivity and putting them back onto the

landscape because they they have been

exposed to a variety of different

diseases that the wild populations have

it and so it's good to keep tortoises as

pets and keep them in the backyard so I

think it's imperative that we identify

these areas that we need to conserve

strictly for desert tortoise

conservation but by conserving desert

tortoises you also can serve the whole

web of life for the deserts in those