Desert Tortoise baby at 

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

We are celebrating Tortoise Week in Joshua Tree! This unique species has been on planet earth for an estimated 15-20 million years and can live to 100 years old. They spend around 95% of their time underground in burrows up to 30 feet in length. When they do come out they’re usually looking for a mate or to consume a diet of grasses, wildflowers, cactus pads, and wild fruit.

Unfortunately, tortoise populations have plummeted in recent decades due to habitat loss, drought, disease, and increased raven predation. This has caused them to now be classified as a federally threatened species, one category away from endangered.

photograph: NPS / Danial Elsbrock


The Two Species of Desert Tortoise

Once believed to be a single species for 150 years a study in 2011 concluded that the desert tortoise is actually two distinct ones divided by the Colorado River in Arizona. The Agassiz’ desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), pictured on top, resides west and north of the river in northern Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California. This is the originally recognized species. The new one is Morafka’s desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai), pictured in the middle, whose home is east and south of the river into Mexico, of which is less studied outside of the US. A map is provided above to show each tortoise’s range. Although they look indistinguishable from the untrained eye differences in life history and reproductive strategies have been observed.

“The two species have different habitat preferences,” says Kristin
Berry, a United States Geological Survey biologist who has studied
desert tortoise biology for more than 40 years and is a coauthor on the
study. “Morafka’s tortoise prefers to hide and burrow under rock
crevices on steep, rocky hillsides, while the Agassiz’s tortoise prefers
to dig burrows in valleys.”

Live in Nevada? Now you can show your support for the incredible desert tortoise with your very own Respect & Protect license plate! 

(Via Reptile Magazine)

The special Nevada desert tortoise license plate is now available for order. Proceeds from the sale will benefit conservation efforts of the species.

Mojave Max was a desert tortoise who lived at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada. In addition to helping educate children of Nevada, he was the representative of the Clark County Desert Conservation Program, and the West Coast’s answer to Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, the sometimes unreliable mammalian weather protector.

The special plate costs just $62 for a standard plate and $97 for a personalized plate, with $25 of that going to support desert conservation measures. More information is available on the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles website.

Meet Tripod, the three legged tortoise looking for a forever home! 

(via Northern Arizona Gazette)

Tripod had a rough go around with a dog leaving him with severe injuries. Thanks to the vets at the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital, a lengthy surgery to amputate a front leg, and lots of rehabilitation, he’s recovered and ready for adoption!

Tripod’s story has a happy ending but that’s not always the case when it comes to encounters between tortoises and dogs. Many don’t realize that tortoise shells have a similar scent to raw hide and that makes them seem like prime chomping material.

“When this tortoise was brought into the veterinary clinic, the damage was so severe that it’s left front leg needed to be immediately amputated,” said Tegan Wolf, AZGFD Tortoise Adoption Program coordinator. “Tripod has since recovered nicely and gets around perfectly fine on three legs.”

As you can see, Tripod is back to dominating all the land he stomps on. He and many other desert tortoises, of varying ages, are in need of forever homes as part of Arizona’s desert tortoise conservation efforts. These tortoises are unable to be released into the wild but have long lives to lives to live.

Adopters need to have a securely enclosed yard or separate enclosure in their yard, free from potential hazards such as a dog, fire pit or unfenced pool. The enclosed area must include an appropriate shelter for the tortoise to escape Arizona’s extreme summer and winter temperatures.

If you live in the Arizona area and have the ability to commit to ~40 years of love and care, Tripod or one of his desert tortoise friends might be waiting for you! Check out more at the Arizona Game and Fish Department here:  www.azgfd.gov/tortoise