Desert Tortoise Week Starts Saturday
Multiple government agencies and conservation organizations are partnering to raise awareness and promote recovery of one of the desert’s most iconic species, the Mojave desert tortoise. This year’s “week” has expanded, with events for the whole family kicking off Sept. 30 and continuing through Nov. 4.
The Mojave desert tortoise was listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened in 1990 due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and predation. The tortoise faces many threats, but you can be part of the species’ recovery by learning more about actions to help them during Desert Tortoise Week.
Check out the full schedule of in-person and online events happening in California, Nevada and Utah.
According to the National Park Service, desert tortoises live in desert valleys between about 1,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation. Typically they are found in creosote bush, where scattered shrubs provide abundant space for growth of grasses and wildflowers, the favored foods of the tortoise.
They spend about 95% of their lives in burrows, emerging to feed and mate during late winter and remaining active through the spring. Tortoises may emerge again after summer storms.
Like humans, tortoises reach adulthood between the ages of 14 and 20, and live from 60 to 80 years. Eggs and hatchlings are very vulnerable: 98% die before reaching maturity. Adults, however, are well protected against most predators (other than humans) and consequently are long-lived.
The NPS also says to use caution around the desert tortoise.
"An encounter with a Desert tortoise is a rare treat. Unlike speedy lizards, tortoises move slowly, so you can get a good look at these lumbering reptiles.
- Don't get too close. Tortoise bladders are like canteens; they store water, then reabsorb it directly from the bladder when fresh water is not available. When frightened, they may urinate as a defense mechanism. Loss of this water supply can be fatal.
- It is important not to pick up or harass tortoises: observe them from a comfortable distance. If the tortoise has retreated into its shell, it means you are too close, it is scared, and you need to back off to a safe distance. Tortoises are susceptible to an upper respiratory infection that has been linked to handling by humans.
It's also important to remember that collecting (or taking home) a desert tortoise is against the law.