Ivanpah project begins springtime tortoise translocations
Last week, 57 desert tortoise were moved back into their natural habitat in the Ivanpah Valley, just outside to boundaries of the Ivanpah SEGS site. The majority of desert tortoise found on the site will be a “short distance” translocation, where the tortoise will remain well within its home range in a habitat with familiar soil composition, food sources, weather and terrain.
Prior to each tortoise’s move, biologists devote hundreds of hours preparing for the tortoise’s eventual move back into the wild. They identify an ideal habitat near where the tortoise was originally found on the project site. When the time of year and temperatures are appropriate for translocation activity, desert tortoise biologists begin by conducting a medical assessment of the tortoises to ensure they are healthy and ready for translocation. Next, with oversight from a Bureau of Land Management biologist, two tortoises at a time are taken from the tortoise nursery to their new, pre-determined location.
Once at the location, the biologists check to see if the tortoise has “voided,” or emptied their bladders. Desert tortoise can survive for up to six months without food or water, so it is very important that the tortoise are fully hydrated before being moved to their new location. They will need the water reserves while they become acclimated with their new surroundings and await the rare rainfall in the desert. To rehydrate a tortoise that has voided, desert biologists can give the tortoise with a quick injection of saline solution in their under arm area, which is painless to the tortoise.
Finally, the tortoise is placed under the shade of a creosote bush that is at least one and a half feet tall. It is then left to venture out and find a new burrow to inhabit and socialize with its new neighbors. This process will be repeated for a total of 57 tortoise that are to be relocated this spring. Biologists will monitor all translocated tortoises each day for the week following to ensure that each tortoise safely assimilates into their new surroundings. After a period of time, the monitoring will be reduced to once a week during the active season and twice a month over the winter for up to 5 years.
The Ivanpah biologists are doing all that they can to ensure the tortoises have a safe transition back into their natural habitat. Each of the translocated tortoises, their hatchlings living in the head-start program (learn more here) and the recipient tortoise population are being studied extensively by biologist and they are eager to gather important new data about the species. The information gleaned at the Ivanpah project will help the desert tortoise biologist community learn more about the species and determine additional ways to help the population once again flourish.
All of the desert tortoise biologists working on the Ivanpah site are authorized professionals and follow a very rigorous set of handling and care guidelines established by the Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Fish and Game and the and the US Fish and Wildlife Services to ensure the safety of the tortoise. For example, for each translocation, there are a very specific set of best practices followed to ensure a successful translocation:
- Each and every tortoise has its own individual “disposition” plan, which tracks the tortoise’s health, activity, habits. These factors are taken into consideration before they are introduced into a new area.
- Each tortoise undergoes a comprehensive medical assessment to verify that the animal is healthy and does not carry a potentially-fatal respiratory disease that is prevalent and contagious among the desert tortoise population.
- The receiving area where the tortoise will be relocated is surveyed numerous times in advance so the “recipient population,” or existing tortoise residents are healthy and can safely accommodate additional tortoises.
- The animal can only be translocated during very specific periods in the spring and the fall.
- The animal can only be translocated when the temperatures are between 65 and 95 degrees F.