The operation’s total cost: $50 million to move 1,185 tortoises, or about $42,000 per tortoise.
The Los Angeles Times reports this is one of the largest “translocations of tortoises ever to be undertaken,” and will begin later this month. The Marines got congressional approval to expand their combat training grounds by another 165 square miles, which runs right over turtle habitat.
“Under the plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 100 contract biologists will help capture 900 adult tortoises — most of them outfitted with radio transmitters — in the expansion area,” according to The Times. “The animals will be released in three sites on military property and nearby public lands.”
The Times reported: “An additional 235 juveniles raised in pens at the base until they are large enough to ward off birds that eat thin-shelled babies will also be relocated. The process will take an estimated two to four weeks to complete, officials said.”
Environmentalists are already criticizing the effort, pointing to past efforts by the Marines to move desert tortoises.
“I wish the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would get some backbone and say it can’t permit another tortoise translocation by the military,” Glenn Stewart, a biologist with the Desert Tortoise Council, told The Times. “The situation makes us feel like we’ll have to write off California’s Mojave population.”
The Times reports there are lots of problems to relocating the reptiles from “stress from handling by humans and then adapting to unfamiliar terrain renders the reptiles vulnerable to lethal threats, including predation by dogs, ravens and coyotes; respiratory disease; dehydration; and being hit by vehicles.”
The desert tortoise was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1990 because the population was declining and it was losing habitat from more people moving.
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