Victory for the tortoise

  • HOMEWARD BOUND: Desert tortoise

    Todd Esque photo
  Though notoriously slow to the finish line, the desert tortoise came out ahead this April in the first endangered-species act case to be prosecuted in Idaho in 15 years.

Russell G. Jones of Star, Idaho, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a protected species under federal law and was fined $1,000 and ordered to serve two months' home detention and three years' probation. He also faced state fines of $3,000. Jones admitted stealing two rare desert tortoises from Snow Canyon State Park northwest of St. George in southern Utah.

Although protected as threatened, the two-pound, dinner-plate-sized tortoise continues to be snatched illegally from its Mojave Desert home and sold to pet stores or to people wanting them as pets. And once in private hands, said Paul Weyland, U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent, "you don't know if they've been captured illegally or not."

There are at least 100 kinds of terrestrial tortoises, said Ted Owens, wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it would be difficult for a buyer to differentiate among them. But the desert tortoise is very noticeable for its plainness. "It's the color of sand all over its body," he said.

"The problem is with tortoises, you can walk right up to them," Owens added. "There are a lot of people out there in the wide open spaces, and our law enforcement presence is pretty thin."

* Jennifer Chergo

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