Desert Tortoise Survey


In an area right by where we were pulling Sahara Mustard earlier, we worked with rangers to help conduct a survey on the desert tortoise population. This kind of survey is labor-intensive in the sense that it requires a row of people (in this case about thirty) evenly spaced out to move along the desert landscape in a specified plot, in search of the elusive desert tortoise.

They are a threatened species, due to both human expansion on the land as well as an illness spread between tortoises. I admit, after hauling supplies and tools up rocky slopes, pulling countless Sahara Mustard plants, and planting collectively 200 native plants, I thought this survey was a nice, peaceful way to end the week. In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing how wrong I was!

Aside from the harsh sun, desert tortoises are surprisingly well camouflaged in the desert. Here is a baby desert tortoise a SCA volunteer found during the survey.

Notice how well the shell pattern mimics the crisscrosses shadows of the creosote bush!

We covered a lot of land, but unfortunately aside from the baby (not old enough for survey purposes) no other desert tortoises were to be found. I admit this was a bit disheartening, but the desert provided us with many other signs of life, and we learned to recognize different aspects of the desert wildlife community, including various burrow types and their inhabitants!

Though it was, in its own special way, grueling work, it was also fun to talk with people as we scanned under and into bushes, with the common goal of stumbling across (though not literally) a desert tortoise.

That night we had a much anticipated fire as well as wrap-up conversation after dinner, a fitting end to a week that suddenly seemed to be ending all too soon.