BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT RIDGECREST FIELD OFFICE
THE DESERT TORTOISE
The desert tortoise is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species. Under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), anyone who takes (the term "take" means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct) a tortoise is subject to civil and/or criminal penalties of up to a $50,000 fine and one year in jail, or both. BLM assists the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the enforcement of the Act. The desert tortoise is also considered by California to be a threatened species with associated penalties.
BIOLOGY: Like other reptiles, the desert tortoise is cold-blooded. To survive in the desert, the tortoise estivates (remains underground in its burrow) during the hottest times of the day during the summer and hibernates (sleeps underground in its burrow) during the cold of winter. Tortoises come out in the spring to eat grasses and wildflowers and drink water from the spring rains (although they obtain most of their water from the plants they eat). Also in spring, they socialize and look for mates. At other times of the year, they are less active above ground.
The desert tortoise reaches sexual maturity between 10 and 20 years of age. The females lay from 2 to 14 ping pong ball size eggs. Since a tortoise may live for 60 to 100 years, many eggs will be laid in a lifetime. However, only about five out of every 100 hatchlings will survive to become an adult tortoise. For the first six to eight years, the young tortoise's shell is no thicker than your fingernail, and therefore, it is easy prey for many other desert animals, especially the raven.
Many human activities also threaten the survival of the desert tortoise. Some of these include:
- removing wild tortoises from the desert
- releasing pet tortoises into the desert (they often carry disease)
- driving off roads in areas not designated for off- highway vehicle play (tortoises are crushed in their burrows)
- crushing tortoises as they are crossing roads
- shooting at tortoises
SOME DOs and DON'TS:
1. If you find a tortoise in the desert, DO take pictures, get down and look at it (but not so close that you disturb it). Watch to see how it moves and what it eats, then walk away and know that you have done a good deed by letting it live in peace.
2. While driving on desert roads, DO keep an eye out for tortoises crossing the road. If you encounter one and have plenty of room to pass, drive slowly and carefully around it. If the tortoise is in immediate danger, pull your car over and stop in a safe place. Carefully place your fingers under and thumbs on top of the tortoise's shell, grasping it on the sides. Keep your hands away from its head. Lift the tortoise slowly and gently, keeping it level and close to the ground, as if it is in a walking position. Move it to a safe place no more than 100 yards away and in the same direction that it was traveling. Carefully set it down, preferably in the shade of a shrub.
3. DO check under your car or truck before driving away. Sometimes a tortoise will seek the shade underneath a parked vehicle.
4. If you want a pet tortoise, DON'T take one out of the desert! DO call the California Turtle and Tortoise Club: Ginger and Gary Wilfong at 510- 886-2946. The Wilfongs can help you adopt a tortoise and obtain a free permit from the California Department of Fish and Game to legally keep a tortoise.
5. If you get tired of a pet tortoise, DON'T let it go in the desert! Release of pet tortoises violates the Endangered Species Act and can spread the deadly Upper Respiratory Tract Disease. Call the number listed above to find a new home for your pet.
For information and/or brochures, contact:
Bureau of Land Management
Ridgecrest Field Office
300 S. Richmond Rd.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Telephone: (760) 384-5400
or email us (use the "feedback" button in the left-hand margin of this Web page).