Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Conservation

I am a huge softie when it comes to animals – any animal (okay, with the exception of most spiders). I feel like they all serve their purpose and we should do whatever we can to try not to completely take over their territory and push them into extinction. I have a particular soft spot for turtles, tortoises, terrapins, etc. I’m not sure what started the love affair exactly, but I have an affinity for the creatures that runs deep. I have been the proud caretaker of a little box turtle for 12 years now. Mortimer has traveled all over the country with me and after 12 years, I feel like I’ve finally figured out how to keep the little guy sufficiently spoiled. I’ve also learned a little known fact – turtle’s have HUGE personalities! Give them enough time and they will prove to be just as independent and individual as any furry creature. For instance, Mortimer loves taking “turtle showers” in the sink, watching tv (especially Bravo), any sort of fruit, and playing peek-a-boo with the cats. He looks at me when I talk to him and we’ve developed our own little morning routine. He’s a relatively low-maintenance little guy.

Mortimer

Mortimer

However, I definitely recommend some thorough research to anyone thinking of investing in one as a “pet.” Just as is the case with any animal, there is a major commitment involved. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t actually just set them free in a park when you no longer want to house them. A lot of turtles die from being unable to acclimate to a wild existence after so much time in captivity. Turtles, etc. also tend to have very long life spans, so keep that in mind as well. But I digress…on to the Desert Tortoise.

Since moving to Phoenix, I’ve met a few people that have given desert tortoises new “homes” in their backyards. These guys are amazing creatures with the ability to travel long distances with little to no water. They can live for over 100 years and become very attached to their burrows – sometimes traveling miles from a new location back to their “homes.” Unfortunately, they are also highly susceptible to respiratory diseases and can dehydrate themselves to the point of death by voiding all of their stored water when picked up or threatened. Their numbers are also rapidly declining with all the development here in the Southwest. Part of my job is working with the government and developers on energy-related projects, so I have learned quite a bit about the dangers the tortoise faces from developers as well as the fees the developer faces for improperly encroaching on the tortoise habitat. The government lists the desert tortoise as “threatened” rather than “endangered,” but that’s expected to change at any moment. So with all of the hoops and paperwork, with all the reports and firsthand knowledge of all the desert tortoise faces, it saddens me greatly when I hear about setbacks in conservation efforts.

The Desert Tortoise Conservation Center near Las Vegas, Nevada is scheduled to close next year as funding runs out. Tortoises that cannot be re-homed back into the wild or with researchers will be euthanized. The report claims that only sick tortoises will be euthanized in order to prevent the spread of diseases. Unfortunately, it seems that around 50-60% the Center’s population is “sick.” Money from developers for tortoise habitat will be directed towards other environmental preservation efforts.

Let me just say that I love my job. I do all that I can to facilitate the best, least harmful decision possible in any given situation. I understand that the federal agencies have a lot of really difficult decisions to make and they do the best they can. But I also know the politics behind some of those decisions, and that’s what makes me so sad about this story. I won’t say anything beyond that on the topic. If you are interested in helping out, the article lists some methods for doing so. I’ve included a link at the bottom of this post to the Change.org petition mentioned. It currently has over 31,000 signatures from people all over the world. I’m never certain what a difference those petitions actually make, but it never ever hurts to try.

I encourage you to read more about this topic and other conservation topics, to be informed about the decisions being made. There is nothing more frustrating than watching decisions being made based on default. The public has such an opportunity to influence the direction our government takes – more so here in the United States than possibly any other country in this world. It seems such a shame not to take advantage of those opportunities. You don’t have to agree with me, but please at least have an opinion.

I’ll continue to update this post if/when there’s news.

Change.org petition

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