Samantha Chilcott and with six-month-old son Isaac get a close look at giant tortoise Little John at Melbourne Zoo.

Ms Hobbs said giant tortoises were thought to live to around 200 and come from the Aldabra Islands, off the coast of east Africa.

“Little John was extremely shy but we’ve worked with him now and he follows me around sometimes,” she said.

Pic: MATT MURPHY

With 70 degree mid-winter weather in Southern California, it does not matter if the most famous groundhog weathercaster Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not on Feb. 2.

However according to legend, when the Living Desert’s Mojave Maxine emerges from her reptilian hibernation, spring is said to officially start in the Mojave Desert.

That’s why the Living Desert is holding a Mojave Maxine Emergence Contest for students in K-12 grades in the Southland. 

The contest challenges students to guess the day and time that Maxine will emerge for the first time this year.

“The Mojave Maxine Emergence Contest is a fun way to get students excited about learning about the desert tortoise,” said Kyle Pong, Desert Tortoise Conservation Coordinator.

The winning entry will be awarded with a $50 gift certificate, a Federal Parks Lands Pass, a $100 gift certificate for the student’s teacher and their entire class will get a visit from a desert tortoise, including Mojave Maxine T-shirts for everyone.

The contest will remain open until Maxine emerges from her burrow for students in K-12 grades, enrolled in public, private and registered home school in the following southern California counties: Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.

“The desert tortoise is California’s state reptile and is listed as ‘Threatened’ on the US Endangered Species List,” Pong said. “The contest helps to create awareness about the desert tortoise and hopefully intrigues students and teachers to learn more about this wonderful herbivorous reptile.”

This season Maxine has been in her den since on Nov. 26, waiting for the warm sun and the flowers to return.