California’s Mojave desert tortoises move toward extinction. Why saving them is so hard
A tortoise living on the Mojave desert can move through the sand by using its hind legs like a crab to pull it forward.
California’s famous tortoises have been known to move on two legs on some parts of their former territories for thousands of years, but the desert tortoise’s fortunes have plunged as researchers discovered that the reptiles were disappearing from more sandy spots in the desert.
The desert tortoise is the only species of tortoise native to the region known as the Mojave Desert. They live there mostly in isolated colonies. They are an endangered species and considered the most endangered tortoise species in the world.
There are about 2,500 tortoises in the Mojave desert. Most of their habitat is off limits to the public because the tortoises can’t survive on sand without a good supply of moisture to keep them alive.
Most desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert are believed to have been left by humans. The animals live more or less where people have traveled or stayed, and they have only been able to survive for a few thousand years.
The desert tortoise is one of the most diverse species of land animal that’s ever existed on the planet. They’ve spread across North America, the Pacific Islands and Europe before being driven to extinction by climate change.
That extinction is happening right here in California, according to a new study of the region by scientists in the United States and Canada.
“There are fewer and fewer desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert,” said John B. W. Scott, an environmental scientist with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
The reptiles are becoming more rarer in places where people have never been, he said. They are on their way to extinction in the region.
A tortoise on the move
The desert tortoise is an almost inch-long carnivore that uses its powerful hind legs like a walking crab to move through the hot, dry desert sand. They can swim, but only when the sand is very soft.
“Some tortoises in the desert are now only able to survive in the desert because they use their hind legs to move and grip the sand and keep themselves from sinking into the sand,” said Paul R. Ehrlich, a senior scientist in the ecology and evolution department at the University of Maryland and an author