Operation Desert Tortoise

I’ll bet some of you thought the title was referring to Darwin, but Darwin is an African Sulcata, and desert tortoises are native to the Mojave and Sonoran Desert. They also happen to be the state reptile of both California and Nevada.

Currently their conservation status is deemed vulnerable as a threatened species. So why would they be exposed to a risky translocation?

A planned base expansion of The U.S. Marines training base in Twentynine Palms, California, threatens the reptiles’ habitat. The moving “vans” have been planned for several years, following detailed studies and protocol designs for optimum safety. More than 1,000 tortoises are currently on the move.

Fingers crossed!

To learn more about this unusual “airlift” you might enjoy this article published in the Marine Corps Times.

We’ve recently experienced some reptile movement at our house, too. It hasn’t involved transponders strapped to his shell, but Darwin is fully awake after his long winter’s nap.

I’ve been told that Sulcatas don’t hibernate, but Darwin definitely spends his winter with very little activity and almost no food. He tucks himself into the corner of our greenhouse with a heat lamp and timothy hay around him for a little extra warmth. Once in a while I tap on his shell and deliberately disturb him so that he will at least give me a little sign of life. I have a hard time not interfering!

Now that he’s awake, timothy hay and fresh spring weeds mixed with a little pumpkin is satisfying to him, and I must admit I breathe lighter when I see him up and around and eating. He spends his day pacing around the yard and taking in as much sun as he can find.

Then by late afternoon his internal clock sends him to the barn.

He’s often hiding and I get a little panicky if I can’t quickly find him–he has escaped before! With his size it’s hard to believe he can hide, but he often does!

He is a lot of responsibility, but he is a big part of our family and it’s so good to have him back!