Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline: Educational Outreach

Local students photograph a desert tortoise as part of a campaign to educate the public.

As we welcome the warmer weather, it means the start of our busy season at the San Diego Zoo Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC), located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline is running full speed ahead! With so much activity on the hotline, we are excited to be moving forward with a new pet desert tortoise outreach project. This has been the basis for a partnership with a local high school and some exceptional students helping to improve the lives of captive desert tortoises in southern Nevada!

This April, we opened our doors to eight digital photography and design students from West Career and Technical Academy, located in Las Vegas. The students had the opportunity to photograph several desert tortoises and many of the beautiful desert plants, like globemallow and beavertail cactus, that were in full bloom. All of the students have been working hard to combine their awesome photographic images with several of our key public messages to design some really cool Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline flyers, brochures, and postcards!

Students capture beavertail cactus in bloom.

We hope these will help prevent folks from illegally releasing a pet tortoise into the desert. I’ve had many conversations with custodians calling to surrender their pets, and prior to contacting the hotline they had been considering releasing their tortoise into the desert. With so many desert tortoises living in homes in Clark County (approximately 200,000), there is always the potential for a pet to be illegally released if a custodian can no longer care for the animal. A big part of our job involves reminding callers that any tortoise illegally released into the desert will have a poor chance for survival, and even if it appears healthy, it may be carrying diseases that could wipe out a wild population of tortoises. This could be devastating to our recovery efforts!

Another way pet tortoise custodians can help with our mission to recover wild populations is to prevent backyard breeding by separating males and females. This might seem counter-intuitive, but juveniles hatched in backyards often don’t survive and can be injured or killed by vehicles, neighborhood cats, or birds. Many hatchlings that do survive are given away illegally to friends or family members that don’t provide the appropriate care. These hatchlings often die slowly in terrariums and aquariums where they are not provided access to heat and light from the sun, which is crucial for proper shell development and survival into adulthood. Unfortunately, these cases occur far too often, and it is always a sad day when a tortoise does not survive due to improper care or injury. As our outreach efforts increase, we hope to see less and less of these tragic cases and more cooperation from the public in helping to conserve the desert tortoise and the Mojave Desert ecosystem!

As the Hotline rings in the background, I realize how easy it is to get caught up in the hectic day-to-day operations of running a busy hotline. Through this amazing project, I am reminded that conservation begins with each person willing to make a difference in his or her own community. The DTCC thanks the West Career and Technical Academy students for doing such a fantastic job with this project and for making a difference toward conservation. I hope others will be inspired to do the same in their own communities!

Lori Scott is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo Desert Tortoise Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Homecoming for Big Guy.

2 Responses to Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline: Educational Outreach

  1. Sounds like it will be a busy time for the DTCC again this year! We’re all out here pulling for you guys ~ and our wild tortoises.

  2. I am on vacation in Nevada next month, I’d love to see such beautiful specimens