For a number of years, tortoises have been the apple of many a conservationist’s eye. Therefore, it comes as somewhat of a surprise to find that these very kind-natured people could actually inspire the death of hundreds of the shell-bound creatures. But, as their sanctuary goes bust, are these tortoises really facing the chop?
According to AP, injections of federal cash are due to run dry for the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas Valley, placing these endangered creatures in a particularly vulnerable position. Officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argue, the tortoises may have to be euthanized, which would result in hundreds of unsuspecting tortoises being put down. AP reports on the not-so-comforting words that recovery coordinator, Roy Averill-Murray, had to offer regarding the closure of the reserve:
“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil.”
So, why have these budgetary constraints become such a profound problem at this moment in time? Strangely, it has been the result of a decline in the construction of housing. Previously, during the unabated housing boom, developers were faced with financial penalties for destroying tortoise habitats on publicly-owned land, the proceeds of which could then be used for preserving the continuation of the sanctuary. During the financial downturn however, the housing market declined and the Bureau of Land Management and its partners have been finding it difficult to sustain the center’s yearly requirements.
This latest news comes at a particularly bad time for the tortoise population of Nevada. For years, these animals have pottered through the deserts, peacefully surviving. However, when an animal’s habitat is replaced by concrete and steel, in the form of behemoth skyscrapers and cinema complexes, such an existence invariably becomes threatened.
Sadly, we, who have placed these magnificent creatures in this perilous position, are now unable to extend our aid because funds are a little low. This species has been around for hundreds of millions of years, and now they seem destined to disappear, as a population of millions gradually dwindles to one of barely 100,000. And now, with the one place where tortoises were provided sanctuary due to go bust, a number of vulnerable tortoises face the chop.
Tortoises are very precarious beasts. Passing individuals and hikers are told, under absolutely no circumstances, are they to pick them up. Once a tortoise is touched, they tend to waste a year’s supply of stored water through dehydration. For whatever reason, if they must be handled, they should be provided with a decent source of water afterwards.
Tortoises are also stalked by a number of natural predators, including ravens, badgers, coyotes and fire ants. These beasts, particularly ravens, have a tendency to impede the reptiles’ juvenile population through destruction of their delicate tortoise eggs.
Aside from this, the tortoise population is affected by a vast number of bacterial, fungal, parasitic and viral pathogens. Respiratory tract infections by Mycoplasma are particularly common, as are bladder stones, shell necrosis and cutaneous dyskeratosis.
Many people have attempted to collect tortoises as pets or souvenirs, ignorant to the damage they were likely to inflict. After coming to the realization that the animals were endangered, people had flocked to return them to the wild; unfortunately, after a period in captivity, the tortoises would often become disease-riddled and weak. These ex-pets are often scooped up by the conservation center’s officials and are subsequently cared for.
Ultimately, these budgetary constraints are set to be the demise of the 23-year-old safe-haven. It is estimated that the vast facility will be shut down by 2014, with half of the sanctuary’s 1,400 strong population of tortoises facing the chop. Although the conservation is almost certainly destined to go bust, Averill-Murray continues to search for cash to save the research section of her conservation.
By: James Fenner