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THE LIVING DESERT AND U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY CELEBRATE THE SIGHTING OF A RARE WESTERN POND TURTLE

PALM DESERT/INDIAN WELLS, CA • May 23, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Erin Scott
Sr. Marketing and Public Relations Manager
760-346-5694 x.2610
escott@livingdesert.org

Just in time for World Turtle Day, celebrated today, staff

of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey recently observed an extremely rare western pond turtle in the Mojave Desert. Turtles of this population have rarely been seen since the late 1990s.

In the 1990s, fewer than 50 western pond turtles, a Species of Special Concern in California, were found in the lower Mojave River. Since then, The Living Desert, the Bureau of Land Management and California Department of Fish and Wildlife have funded concentrated efforts to find turtles in the same area. These surveying missions were unsuccessful until 2016 when one hatchling was found by a student, and then again earlier this month when an adult female was discovered. Both turtles were photographed and released.

“It’s possible that we observed two of the last survivors of a population that has existed in the Mojave Desert area since the last Ice Age,” said USGS scientist and turtle expert Jeffrey Lovich. “While it is possible that more persist in this isolated wetland, the numbers must be very low.”

World Turtle Day provides an opportunity to appreciate and reflect on the cultural significance and status of turtles around the world. These iconic animals outlived the dinosaurs and retained essentially the same shape and form for millions of years.

Although they are common in some places and familiar to almost everyone, turtles are now the most endangered major group of animals with backbones on earth. About 60 percent of all turtle species are extinct or threatened to some degree. Threats faced by turtles include habitat destruction, overexploitation as food or pets, pollution, climate change and other factors.

USGS crews spend weeks in the field, sometimes hoping to find even one turtle. Scientists research various species including Agassiz's desert tortoises, diamond-backed terrapins, map turtles and others.

"The Living Desert is proud to participate in these important studies and discoveries," said Peter Siminski, Director of Conservation at The Living Desert. "The preservation of these outlier populations is important to protecting the genetic diversity of the species."

For more information about The Living Desert, visit www.LivingDesert.org

About the Living Desert:

The Living Desert is an AZA-accredited zoo and gardens that is dedicated to desert conservation through preservation, education and appreciation. It is a family-friendly place to explore nature and create meaningful experiences for guests that are remembered for a lifetime. For more information: (760) 346-5694 or visit www.LivingDesert.org. The Living Desert is located at: 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

About the USGS

USGS provides science for a changing world. Visit USGS.gov, and follow us on Twitter @USGS and our other social media channels.