California’s Mojave desert tortoises move toward extinction. Why saving them is so hard.
After a decade of work to eradicate the desert tortoise from the Mojave, conservationists have finally gotten serious about saving the species. Now, there may be a third generation of tortoises under threat.
Last summer, about a dozen tortoises were found in a nest in the Mojave Desert.
One expert who discovered the nest estimated that the tortoises had no more than three years left to live. A conservation report published last week said, “The last wild tortoise in California may now be extinct.”
“The extinction of the Mojave tortoise is a very serious, very big deal,” David Gurnsey, a biologist and a senior adviser for the Xerces Society — an organization that was helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) make the tortoises’ recovery work — told The Huffington Post. “There are only about 3,500 of these big beasts left in the wild.”
That’s a large number of tortoises, but it’s not insurmountable.
So far, the rescue of the desert tortoise’s most serious problems — habitat loss, and a population explosion of feral dogs — has been one of the greatest success stories of the federal government’s Conservation Innovation Strategy (CIS).
CIS is a $3.1 billion plan developed by the FWS in 2004. Its goal is to conserve at least 9,500 of all wildlife species by 2012.
The “cure” for California’s desert tortoises has always been a difficult proposition, Gurnsey said. But in recent years, the FWS has turned to scientific methods and social media to save the species.
The agency has hired teams of scientists and behavioral ecologists to conduct surveys, genetic studies and computer modeling. Gurnsey said the team has also been working on the “next generation,” which he expects will be implemented in 2014.
“It’s important for us to be doing things on