The United States Marine Corps and UCLA have joined forces to reestablish the threatened desert tortoise population. The slow moving terrestrial herbivore – which is also California’s state reptile – has not been able to hide in its shell from encroaching development nor from off road vehicles that threaten the species. These unnatural enemies – along with birds and lizards – have decimated the population over the years.
The five-acre Desert Tortoise Head Start Facility located at the Twentynine Palms Marine Base has been a safe haven for the soft shell species. The ultimate goal of the project is to build up the population and release them into the wild. It will take about a year or more for new born hatchlings to be ready to venture off on their own.
Once they make it to the desert, the tortoise will have to contend with its high flying adversary, the raven, whose population has increased significantly in desert areas. The raven has made the younger, palm sized desert tortoises a preferred entrée. Twentynine Palms Marine Base has gone as far as to “raven proof” trash cans on site and keep all those on base educated and aware of the aerial threat.
The head start facility provides food and water for the tortoises to make them bigger and stronger before they are deployed to their own battle for survival in the desert.