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Conservation Education

Desert Tortoise Information and Education Program:
Since 2010 The Living Desert has managed the Desert Tortoise Information and Youth Education Program (Program) in collaboration with BLM, USFWS, CDFW and NGO participants. We have received four grants from these partners and are currently working under a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant focusing on ameliorating raven predation on tortoises.
The Mojave population of the desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, was listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1990. In 1994, The U.S. fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat covering 6.4 million acres of the desert tortoise range. Approximately, 4.8 million acres or 75 percent of the critical habitat occurs in the State of California, primarily on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the Department of Defense. In addition to Federal protection, the desert tortoise is the California State reptile and is listed as a threatened species under the State’s Endangered Species Act.

Since TLD became primary manager of the Program in 2010, we provided outreach at events reaching over 500,000 people promoting desert tortoise conservation awareness and action. To do this, TLD created an interactive and colorful traveling exhibit to attract event visitors to the booth.

The Living Desert developed a current standards-based teaching curriculum for students that integrate desert tortoise ecology, conservation, and desert land use ethic with California teaching standards for science, math and reading. This was accomplished with educational kits, “tortoise trunks,” that contain the curriculum and all equipment and learning aids that a teacher needs to implement the curriculum. There are different trunks with different themes for five school grade groups, K-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-9 and 10-12. All the trunks meet the latest California curriculum standards.

The Living Desert created four adult oriented desert tortoise conservation brochures promoting desert Tortoise conservation including information on the role of ravens in desert tortoise population decline and the indirect role that humans play in subsidizing unnaturally large raven populations. The four brochures are:

  • “You’re in Desert Tortoise Country: Respect, Protect, Enjoy”
  • “Invasion of the Tortoise Snatchers: Ravens in the Mojave Desert.”
  • “My Pet Desert Tortoise can be a Threat to Wild Tortoises?”
  • “Educator’s Guide to Desert Tortoise Conservation Information and Activities”

These brochures are distributed throughout southern California in all BLM, NPS, And State Park offices and visitor centers. They are also distributed to the various chapters of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club for their public outreach programs, also at The Living Desert.

Since 2009, The Living Desert conducts the annual Mojave Maxine Desert Tortoise Emergence Contest for students in Southern California. Mojave Maxine is a real live desert tortoise that lives at The Living Desert. Each November she retires to her underground burrow on exhibit at The Living Desert. She stays in her burrow in a state of brumation emerging as the warm days of desert spring arrive and the promise of fresh flowers tempt her back to the surface. The student’s mission is to guess the date and time that she emerges. Prizes were awarded to a student from each of nine southern California counties that is the first to guess the closest date and time of day. Also each winning students received a visit to their classroom from Mojave Maxine with a naturalist interpreter, and each class member and the class teacher received a prize. These visits included a message of “Keep the Desert Clean” and the role of ravens as predators of desert tortoises. Thousands of students from Inyo, Imperial, San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Ventura, and Kern counties participate in the contest. The first entry received from each county that is closest to the exact day and time won a $50 gift certificate, a Federal Lands Pass, a visit from a desert tortoise, Mojave Maxine t-shirts for their entire class and a $100 gift certificate for their teacher.

Our current program focuses on four goals:
Goal 1: Increase environmental awareness in local students (elementary through college) and educators about the importance of protecting desert ecosystems, desert tortoises, and reducing raven populations. Present in-class and on-site environmental education programs to elementary and middle school children; engage high school and college students through youth initiatives; and provide curriculum, materials, and training of these topics to educators.
Goal 2: Increase environmental awareness of California desert residents and visitors about the importance of protecting desert ecosystems, desert tortoises, and reducing raven subsidy. Provide environmental education and outreach programs to local residents and visitors at the Living Desert and at special events.
Goal 3: Gain cooperative partnerships with local communities, and work together to reduce/eliminate food subsidies for ravens, perching opportunities for ravens, and protecting desert tortoise habitat throughout the California desert.
Goal 4: Increase social media presence about desert tortoises, raven populations, and actions everyone can take to help reduce raven predation on desert tortoises. Increase tangible presence and resources throughout the desert by creating and distributing informational brochures and wayside exhibits.

Wild Nature Institute’s Celebrating Africa’s Giants: Environmental Education for Conservation of Giraffes, Elephants, and Rhinoceroses:
The Living Desert is a partner and financial supporter of the Wild Nature Institute and its environmental education programs in Tanzania that are creating value and awareness, and stimulating correct action in preserving Africa’s vanishing giant animals like the elephant, the rhinoceros and the giraffe.

Africa’s giants are at risk. Giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceroses are Africa’s giants, roaming majestically across savanna landscapes and awing safari-goers and zoo visitors around the world. These large mammals play critical ecological roles in the places where they live, but their numbers are plummeting because of conflicts with humans. Tanzania provides some of the last best natural habitat for these mega-herbivores but animals are so often killed by poachers for meat, ivory, and horn, or by farmers seeking to protect their crops, that populations are threatened even within protected areas. Successful conservation of Africa’s giants requires support from Africans living alongside giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros, as well as people around the world who care about the survival of these species and their habitats.

The goal of WNI’s “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” project is to use environmental education (EE) to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants.

Environmental education is one of the best tools for developing meaningful conservation awareness and action. EE is the process of empowering people to explore environmental issues and engage in problem solving and actions to improve the environment. The Tanzanian government mandates that EE in primary and secondary schools be integrated into a range of subjects (math, language, geography, biology). In practice, lack of appropriate materials and teacher training limit implementation of EE in Tanzania, and textbooks and materials written in the U.S. or Europe are less relevant to Tanzanian students and may thus be less effective teaching aids.

In 2017, Mike Chedester visited some schools in Tanzania this fall to witness the Maasai Mobile Education program in progress.

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