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WHAT IS THE TORTOISE?


The Giant Turtle has a lifespan of well over a century; some individuals may have lived to two centuries. It is also a highly endangered species, due to all the usual reasons. For a creature with so few demands, a thick shell for defense against predators, and a lifespan that can reach 100 years, the tortoise should be one of the great survivors of the desert.



But the tortoise's low reproductive rate and the extreme variability of desert conditions make it difficult for the species to maintain a stable population. Habitat destruction and illegal tortoise collection have disrupted this delicate balance. As a result, the desert tortoise population has been declining for years.














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Most major threats to the desert tortoise - land development, livestock overgrazing, off-road vehicle recreation, poaching, and pet collection - are direct results of humans and human development. Historically, for example, popular demand for pet desert tortoises took a toll on the species in the wild. In the 1970s, Californians housed an estimated 200,000 pet desert tortoises, perhaps ten times the number that remained in the wild. But captured tortoises, robbed of the chance to breed and fulfill their ecological role, are effectively biologically dead. They cannot help to perpetuate the species. Consequently, until recent years, the taking of tortoises for pets was a leading cause of the species' decline.

 

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