In what could be the largest translocation of desert tortoises in California, the U.S. Marine Corps announced plans this month to move 1,185 tortoises from 165 square miles of a recently approved expansion area for its combat center to other areas in the Mojave Desert. However, the plan is facing criticism.
Detractors claim moving these reptiles will lead to their demise, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In fact, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue, claiming the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Marine Corps didn’t properly consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the potential negative effects that moving these reptiles would have on these tortoises, as well as the effects of other tortoise populations living in the relocation sites. There is a precedent, as a 2008 effort by the U.S. Army to relocate 670 tortoises was suspended after 90 tortoises died because of the move.
“This massive translocation proposal is being rushed through the process this spring without fully considering how it may affect the already declining tortoise population in the western Mojave,” Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center, said in a statement. “What we should be doing is recovering this population, not pushing it closer to extinction.”
The $50-million effort calls for the capture and relocation of 900 adult tortoises currently living on the expansion site and 235 juvenile tortoises that are being raised in pens on the base. Most of the adults will be outfitted with radio transmitters to better locate and track them.
The prospects for survival, however, are not good, according to the Times. More than 9,000 wild and pet tortoises were moved from a Las Vegas desert tortoise conservation facility from 2004 to 2014, but last year, only 370 were found during a survey. When they are moved, their natural foraging areas are taken away and they also have to deal with new environments and potential new predators.
The California desert tortoise, although an endangered species, remains a popular pet due in part to the fact that they live so long, upward of 50 to 80 years. Many collected in the 1960s and 1970s remain with families who acquired them on trips to the Mojave Desert. Others were returned to the desert, spreading diseases that were acquired during captivity. Although it is illegal to purchase these reptiles, they can be adopted depending on the laws of your local area.