The morning sun is barely peeking above the horizon, and magnificent purple and orange rays of light begin to cascade over the entire Mojave Desert. I’m trying to get in as many snapshots of adoptable tortoises before the intense desert heat sets in. Each photo is important, and I know I’m running out of time as a thin bead of sweat drips down my neck: it will only be minutes before tortoises begin to disappear beneath the earth into their cool burrows. Maybe the impressively large male tortoise I’m trying to get the perfect picture of would wait a second longer if he only knew these photos could change his life. “Photos of hope” I like to call them, displaying the unique and charming characteristics of adoptable tortoises that reside at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC), located in Las Vegas.
With approximately 1,000 tortoises coming to the DTCC through the Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline each year, it would be easy for them to blend together. However, there are quite a few tortoises that stand out in my mind. Homer, a petite adult male tortoise with a big personality, can be added to my lasting impression’s list. He recently found his forever home with his new custodian, Mandy, who had the opportunity to pick Homer from an adoption packet with tortoise photos and descriptions. Without actually seeing his cute face and curious demeanor in the photo, Mandy might have missed the opportunity to adopt Homer and make him part of her family.
An otherwise healthy tortoise, Homer has a mild beak deformity, which does require supplements of soft food in his diet in case he is unable to eat some of the native forage provided in the yard. Mandy is finding out every day what a joy Homer is to have, and she was excited to send some fun photos of him with his new feline family members, Seymore and Oliver. Seymore especially likes to hang out just above the opening to Homer’s burrow and wait for him to come out and play when the weather is nice (see above). Mandy also tells me the whole family loves watching Homer go about his daily activities in the yard, and she has occasionally found him in the house after finding his way inside through an open back door!
Our main mission at the DTCC continues to be recovery of wild desert tortoise populations in the Mojave Desert. However, I’m hoping folks will see the benefit of adopting a tortoise that is not eligible for release but would make a great addition to a caring and loving home! Tortoises that are eligible for adoption are healthy and social animals that may have been someone’s pet or tortoises with mild physical abnormalities. Through Tortoise Group, the only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved adoption program in southern Nevada, conservation-minded custodians can provide loving homes for tortoises in need that currently reside at the DTCC while advocating on behalf of a threatened species, helping us to spread the word regarding desert tortoise conservation in southern Nevada.
Lori Scott is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline: Educational Outreach.