Tortoise WeekAlex Ocanas October 23, 2020
The second week of October was ‘Desert Tortoise Week’, where institutions like The Living Desert, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Joshua Tree National Park, to name just a few, band together to celebrate and promote the conservation of the iconic and beloved desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Contrary to common myth that conservationists prioritize protection of wildlife over desires of the people, one of our deepest missions is to protect wildlife for the sake of public benefit. Often those benefits take the form of ecological function – thriving biodiversity ensures balanced ecological processes, encouraging resilient economies and thus flourishing societies. A benefit that may outshine them all, and one that usually sparks the enduring commitment of conservationists, too, is the sense of wonder, innate familiarity, and unconfinable moments of beauty we discover when we have the opportunity to intimately experience and interact with other animals.
Throughout a series of events we hosted for Desert Tortoise Week, including a native plant sale, a drive-in screening of Tortoise in Peril, and our usual commitment to promote adoption of surrendered tortoises to stable foster homes, we repeatedly crossed paths with a family deeply dedicated to the desert tortoise and its protection. Before the drive-in screening of the Hitchcock classic, The Birds, which tells the story of a small town plagued by a murderous flock of birds, not unlike what desert tortoise communities have to deal with every day, we and one of our ambassador tortoises visited with each vehicle of guests.
Meeting first at the drive-in, we learned of their honorable intentions to foster a desert tortoise. Days later, and by happenstance, we found them stocking up on plants from our desert tortoise native plant sale to create a 600 square foot habitat for their soon-to-be adopted tortoise. Shortly after, their eldest son offered to dedicate his Eagle Scout project to restoring tortoise rehabilitation areas in The Living Desert’s Nature Area. Finally, and in a moment that gave the truest value to the entirety of events we hosted for desert tortoise week, we learned their outstanding appreciation for the tortoise was inspired by a promise to honor the life, memory, and love of their youngest son who tragically passed after a recent vehicular accident. Beginning with a school project on tortoises and transforming to family outings to spot them in the wild, his fascination with the tortoise reached each member of his family and lives on today.
His story and extraordinary commitment have now reached us at the Living Desert as we conclude desert tortoise week with humble reverence for all that he and his family continue to do to appreciate and care for the treasured desert tortoise. To know children and families like these who have been so struck by the wonder of wildlife and choose, as we do, to devote their energy to continual species protection, leaves us assured there is still abiding hope for recovery of the threatened desert tortoise and the opportunity for children and adults alike to know the splendor of our desert’s wild life.