This post was written by Ash (Nalini) Maharaj

The desert tortoise is one of the most ancient critters of the high desert. These terrestrial animals adapt themselves very well to dry climate on land.  Their homes in the high desert are burrows that are shaped in the form of a half moon.  They keep cool/warm in these burrows to avoid the extreme cold or heat of the desert.  You would be very lucky to encounter one.

They are beautiful reptiles that are totally passive in personalities.  These humble souls have a beautiful hard decorative shell that almost seems to be artistically molded on their bodies by Mother Nature. Their long neck with their old wrinkled heads pops out of the shell, as they move slowly with their heavy rear legs (described as almost elephant- like in many critter books), reminding us of how ancient they are. To me they seem to be as old as the rock formations in the National Park.  They certainly enhance the beauty of the desert environment. They are a joy to watch.For the desert tortoise, one of their primary modes of survival is storing water in their huge bladders; this storage allows them to keep a “year’s supply of water”. The tortoise can live a full life of up to 80 years, if this species is well protected.

Their movements are very slow; hence their speed in movement is no match for bikes, cars, trucks, and off-highway vehicles. These vehicles can easily crush a tortoise shell. Always check underneath your cars before you drive off, as they often look for shady spots to rest in the desert.

 If you spot a tortoise during your adventures in the desert leave them alone.  Because if you make them anxious, they can out of fear, release their supply of water, which can be fatal to their survival, especially if they cannot replenish it quickly.  Moreover don’t use the desert as a dump site for your garbage or litter, as these creatures can get easily entangled in trash that can lead to their death. Trash attracts Ravens which are predators to the tortoise, its eggs and hatchlings.

Suddenly my thoughts are interrupted by the movements of critters in the garden, as they close their meeting by giving thanks for the tortoise life in the desert.

 For more information on the tortoise and how you can help to save them you can visit the following websites www.defenders.org and www.mojavedesertlandtrust.org  Information provided on the Tortoise was taken from pamphlets and newsletters provided by the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center.

And from the following texts:

1. The Desert Tortoise (answers to frequently asked questions) by James W.Cornett

2. A Field Guide to Desert Holes (revised edition) by Pinau Merlin

3. Indians and Desert Animals by James W. Cornett