The Desert Tortoises
The desert tortoise species, including Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii; also known as the Mojave desert tortoise), Morafka’s desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai; also known as the Sonoran desert tortoise), and Goode’s thornscrub tortoise (Gopherus evgoodei; also known as the Sinaloan thornscrub tortoise), are native inhabitants of several southwestern ecosystems, including the Sonoran, Colorado, and Mojave Deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, and tropical deciduous forests and thornscrub in northwestern Mexico. These tortoises are long-lived reptiles, as important to their ecosystems as their own environments are to them. For example, many animals and plants in desert communities owe parts of their lives to the burrows that Agassiz’s desert tortoises excavate and inhabit. Though the desert tortoises are well-adapted to their environments, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re unable to cope with the fast-paced and increasingly widespread and intensive changes humans have wrought on southwestern ecosystems in recent decades. The Desert Tortoise Council is an advocate for each of these species, and we advocate science-based approaches to conserving desert tortoises and their habitats.
Each of the desert tortoises face unique challenges and have been afforded varying levels of conservation status and protection. Agassiz’s desert tortoise has been listed Threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and provided Critical Habitat designations, but their populations are still at great risk. Morafka’s desert tortoises have possibly been less affected by anthropogenic stressors, but it is species of very special concern in both Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Many populations of Goode’s thornscrub tortoise, a species described in 2016 are located in unprotected areas in northwestern Mexico, and their status is unknown. More information about the biology of each desert tortoise species and their conservation statuses is presented on the following page:
Desert tortoises have been kept in captivity for many years. While captive maintenance of pet desert tortoises is legal, there are laws and guidelines for keeping them in captivity. In most areas, it is illegal to collect wild desert tortoises for pets. As well, it is illegal in most areas to release captive desert tortoises into the wild. The Desert Tortoise Council strongly recommends that any person who keeps desert tortoises in captivity or who wishes to keep desert tortoises in captivity adhere to these laws. Laws and guidelines for keeping captive desert tortoises is presented on the following page:
Tortoise In Peril
The following documentary entitled Tortoise In Peril was aired on KCET as part of their Earth Focus series. This highly acclaimed and award-winning program features the many troubles that desert tortoises face, and how we may overcome them through conservation efforts.
Desert tortoises are a threatened species. Habitat destruction, diseases and other factors have reduced their numbers by up to 90 percent. Now flocks of ravens, that often live off human trash, are eating baby tortoises, reducing the odds of tortoise survival as a species. This documentary explores that impact, pointing out how people can change the environment through seemingly innocent actions.