California’s Mojave desert tortoises move toward extinction. Why saving them is so hard
In the shadow of Death Valley in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a thin line of brown sand, a few scattered shrubs and thorny oaks with tiny palm-trees is all that has protected the Mojave tortoise from extinction.
From the top of the hill behind, you can see a thick, dark wood. But the tortoises are not in the wood.
There is no place in nature where so many have not found refuge. The Mojave desert, also known as Death Valley, is one of the only places in the world where the tortoises still exist.
To the west of Death Valley are the sagebrush deserts of the central U.S. where tortoises exist. To the south are the coastal pine and oak forests, where they were decimated by the arrival of European settlers in the 19th Century. More than 200 species of plants in the Mojave and central U.S. deserts are also threatened with extinction.
The desert tortoise, which is the only species of tortoise, is one of these threatened species.
The tortoises face an uphill battle for survival. The desert tortoise population in the Mojave is dwindling at an alarming rate.
More than 2,000 tortoises are believed to exist in the Mojave. Of those, only about 1,000 are believed to be left, according to the Endangered Species Survival Alliance, an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting the earth’s wildlife.
At the end of August, the alliance announced that the tortoises were on the verge of extinction. As of August 31st, only about 200 tortoises remain, which is less than 1 percent of their natural population.
The reason for the desert tortoise’s imminent extinction is its interaction with humans.
The Mojave tortoises have lived in the desert for millions of years, growing as long as 6 feet and weighing as much as a small car. When compared to the tortoises in more hospitable surroundings, the desert tortoise is tiny compared to its natural size. But it is also one of the most powerful animals.
The tortoise can eat a variety of plants, including some of the toughest plants anywhere on Earth. Some are said to be more than two times