Why a Conservation Center May Have to Kill Endangered Tortoises

Desert tortoises were once so plentiful in the American Southwest that anyone driving through the desert picked them up to take home as pets. Habitat destruction, urbanization and disease have resulted in the tortoise’s numbers dwindling by 90 percent since the 1980s. In 1990, the Fish and Wildlife Service proclaimed the tortoise a threatened species.

Just over two decades later, with an estimated 100,000 tortoises surviving in Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, a Las Vegas conservation center that has sought to care for hundreds of tortoises says it must euthanize half as federal funding disappears.

The Desert Tortoise Conservation Center is a 220-acre holding and research facility that has been supported with funds from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), via fees paid by developers who have disturbed the public lands where the tortoise makes its home.

Im the early 2000s, Nevada’s housing boom provided ample funds for the conservation center’s budget. But the recession resulted in a shrinking of the housing market — only $290,000 in federal mitigation fees has come in from developers in the past 11 months — and to the BLM and the local government finding themselves short on funds. As a result, the center is to be closed by the end of 2014.

In its 200 million years of existence, the desert tortoise has evolved a number of habits that have made it particularly hard for it to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, notes the Washington Post:

Laws to protect the panicky plodders ban hikers from picking them up, since the animals are likely dehydrate themselves by voiding a year’s worth of stored water when handled. When they’re moved, they nearly always attempt to trudge back to their burrows, foiling attempts to keep them out of harm’s way. They’re also beset by respiratory infections and other illnesses.

Most of the tortoises at the conservation center are former pets whose owners no longer wanted them.

At the conservation center, the tortoises have been living out their days (they can live up to 100 years) eating scrubby grass and ducking under protective PVC piping. While the center staff seeks to release as many as possible, many are too feeble or infected with disease to survive in the wild. In fact, the upper respiratory illnesses that tortoises are susceptible to have been linked to their being handled by humans.

More and more tortoises are being brought to the conservation center, adding to the 1,400 who already reside there. Hundreds of these tortoises are now faced with euthanization. “It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray said about the plan. He hopes that the research function of the center might at least be saved and is seeking out alternative funding sources.

Research like a 2006 report by United States Geological Survey (pdf) is crucial to determine the effectiveness of recovery efforts. Killing endangered tortoises because of a budget shortfall is, it goes without saying, a step in the wrong direction and all the more after so many efforts have been expended to preserve them.

Help prevent the euthanization of hundreds of desert tortoises and tell the Bureau of Land Management to keep the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center open!

Photo from Thinkstock

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven28 days ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

signed and shared, thanks for sharing :)

Thomas Brueckner
Thomas Brueckner2 years ago

To euthanize endangered animals is and will never be a solution, nor an Option for helping.
As I was a child my neighbour have had a tortoise. She was so smooth and beauty and we kids loved the little cutie. She has bring us to laugh in positive ways.
It hurts me to hear that endangered species get no chance to survive.Not killing the desert tortoise, but helping them all out with medicine is the right way.


Why when it comes to animals the decisión to kill them ? Do the same with humans.

Jessica Larsen

I just can't get these tortoises out of my mind. Aren't there laws about killing endangered animals?

If they're sick just provide them treatment. The US can't afford that, but they can afford to wage war on yet another Asian country? As long as they got their priorities straight, eh!

I hope everyone here living in the states Erica H mentioned are looking into adopting.

Jessica Larsen

"Neither the BLM or FWS are euthanizing any healthy tortoises. They are being prepped for release into the wild (in pre-planned locations)."

Are you sure about that, Erica H? That would be ONE good thing in this mess.

But even an injured tortoise who can't make it on its own can still reproduce in captivity and the hatchlings released. Every egg helps make a difference.

Susan L.
Susan L.2 years ago

I've alwayswanted a toroise, they are such lovely creaturesand appear so wise when you look at their leathery faces. They cannot be put to sleep because of lack of funding.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Shame!!! This is so wrong! Petition signed and shared

mike p.
mike p.2 years ago

Sick threats in order to gain funding - they ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves as euthanasia should only be used when the animal is very ill and not because it has become a financial liability. If they are so cash strapped get them to me and I will happily put all of the tortoises on my 50 acres on the Mediterranean coast of France and feed and treat them as necessary. Little likelihood of that as they would rather save face and kill them !!!

Don Swanz
Don Swanz2 years ago

OFF TOPIC: There are not many things in the world that REALLY PISS ME OFF; but this is one of them and my granddaughter is not here to help me get this done properly.

In any case, PLEASE google Judge G. Todd Baugh. When the page pops up, read about his recent RAPE case court decision and then PLEASE sign the petition to have this sorry excuse of a human being removed from office.

With my most sincerE "THANKS and APPRECIATION", Don and I CAN! :-))