SciSun: Desert Veterans   Leave a comment

In the harsh and demanding Mojave Desert of Southern California – about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas – is an area set aside for some of the most tough and fearless form of life found in North America – the United States Marine. At Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Training Center, Marines are taught to live and fight in some of the most difficult situations possible, and through missions – most of which are classified – learn everything necessary to be part of a highly skilled military force. While the base is over 600,000 acres, (with plans to make it even larger!), Marines only actively use a small portion of the area, and most of the land remains largely undisturbed due to ever-changing training schedules and locations. Still, that leaves a LOT of land that could be devoted to other purposes….like protecting and raising little baby desert tortoises!

“Remember, men, this is training mission 'Lightning Strike'.  I'll take the lead.”

“Remember, men, this is training mission ‘Lightning Strike’. I’ll take the lead.”

At first it might sound odd to find a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) nursery within a restricted and often dangerous military depot. But through a partnership between the US Defense Department, the Marine Corps and the University of California, Los Angeles, about 500 hatchlings – baby tortoises – along with some older tortoises – safely live in a protected area on the Marine base. The 5-acre ‘Tortoise Head Start Facility’ is completely enclosed with fencing; has protective netting as a roof to keep away ravens (the most dangerous predator for baby tortoises); includes food and water; and the animals are even encouraged to exercise in preparation for future release into their native desert environment. Being a ‘Head Start’ facility, it’s not clear if the tortoises also have scheduled art time and reading activities.

The Desert Tortoise is an endangered species, due to human activity such as off-road vehicles; expansion of cities and residential development; a not-yet-understood increase in the number of ravens; and slow growth of the tortoises themselves. In the 1990’s 6.4 million acres of desert, mostly in California, was set aside as protected areas for this animal and other unique species that call the desert their home. It’s now illegal to harm or disturb any Tortoise, and every Marine sent to Twentynine Palms is trained not only in military action, but also directed to protect the Tortoise and it’s environment. This includes notifying officials when a tortoise is seen in areas of human activity; picking up litter and trash that would attract ravens; and even altering training schedules to protect these long-lived reptiles. So rough, tough, and ready, hard-shell desert veterans aren’t the only thing found at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave desert. In addition to these men and women of the Marine Corps, also lives the Desert Tortoise.


Michonne Says: “The desert isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. You just dig down into the cool ground. And then you take a long nap. Just be sure you bring down some flowers and grass for later, when you want a snack.”

Posted January 20, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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