SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance helped save juvenile tortoises from dangerous heat by transferring them from their outdoor habitat in the Mojave Desert to an indoor one at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, California

Although desert tortoises are well adapted to high temperatures, the recent intense heat waves have been putting the species’ survival at risk.

Due to the desert tortoise being on path to extinction, the San Diego Wildlife Alliance and the Living Desert Zoo are working together in order to save the species from disappearing.

They are doing so by tracking and rearing young tortoises in sheltered habitats from the time they hatch to approximately one to two years later as this is the time in which the young tortoises are most vulnerable. Once the tortoises make it past this fragile stage, they are then reintroduced back into their natural habitat.

The eggs and hatchlings saved by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and the Living Desert Zoo were scheduled to be transferred to the indoor facility in October 2022, but due to the extreme heat they had to be relocated a month earlier. Tortoise eggs and hatchlings can only survive in temperatures of up to 95.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In the recent heat wave, outdoor temperatures were close to or exceeded 109.5 degrees Fahrenheit for over 12 days in a row, prompting their move to an indoor facility earlier than planned as these extreme temperatures can be fatal to the young tortoises.

Once common in California deserts, the desert tortoise is now categorized as Critically Endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species. In just 20 years, the population has declined by approximately 90%, according to a press release from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

The work being done by both organizations gives hope to conservationists on the survival of the desert tortoise as their research is helping explore the best ways for helping the species adapt to changing climate conditions.