Caution: Desert Tortoise Crossing

  • Desert tortoise

    Kit Miller
  If a desert tortoise crosses your path and you don't mind your manners, you could face fines of up to $100,000 or one year in jail. Due to urbanization and development, the animal, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, has lost an extensive amount of its habitat in Arizona, California, Nevada and southern Utah. The Bureau of Land Management has recently published a brochure about the tortoise in an effort to educate the public before the animal emerges from its winter burrows. Often, a curious person will pick up a tortoise to get a closer look, says Doran Sanchez of the BLM's Riverside, Calif., office. But this scares the animal, causing it to empty its bladder and possibly die from dehydration. "Picking up a tortoise is against the law unless it's on a roadway and needs to be moved," says Sanchez. Agency zoologist Kristin Berry says that if it is absolutely necessary to pick up a tortoise, "keep the shell level to the ground, don't tip it or try to look at the underside, and walk it 100 yards off the road, into the direction it was headed."

For a copy of the brochure, Will the Desert Tortoise win the race ... for survival? contact the BLM California Desert District at 6221 Box Springs Blvd., Riverside, CA 92507-0714 (800/446-6743).

* Rebecca Clarren

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