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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Help a Species, Adopt a Tortoise

Help a Species, Adopt a Tortoise

Desert tortoise, Joshua Tree NP (credit: NPS)


The Desert Tortoise inhabits deserts in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah and it is in trouble. In 1920, 1000 tortoises/square mile were estimated to exist in the Mojave desert alone. Seventy years later the slow-moving reptiles were listed as threatened on the Department of Interior's endangered species list. The slow moving creatures have suffered from a series of threats including harvesting for the commercial pet trade; habitat destruction; and being roadkill. Several active efforts are now underway to reverse their decline.

Joshua Tree National Park has established a program to better understand the status of the desert tortoise, its ecology, and how populations can be rebuilt in the hyper-arid environment of that California park. Working with volunteers from non-profit organizations as 'citizen scientists', park managers began an initiative to monitor tortoise behavior using radio-tagging the reptiles with transmitters. The batteries last three years and provide valuable data that couldn't be acquired otherwise on the lumbering animals. There is even a cell phone app you can use to help the field workers identify tortoises you might encounter on a desert hike. Efforts by other parks even allow an individual to adopt a tortoise by making a donation to sponsor a tortoise. The donations go directly to acquiring additional tracking devises to expand the monitoring of more turtles.


Desert Tortoise radio tracking and health measurements (credit: National Park Service & Institute for Wildlife Studies)

A park service video shows what dedicated volunteers and park managers can accomplish for conservation of this iconic desert animal when groups collaborated together. WHB

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