The Desert Tortoise
Conservation Center arose out of the need to protect the Desert Tortoise from
the encroachments of real estate developers and overly flexible zoning
officials that operate in the Las Vegas area resulting in actions that
have led to the Desert Tortoise being added to the endangered
species list by the federal
The Desert Tortoise
is the largest reptile in the Southwest US. It has few natural
predators and can live dozens of years. The Desert Tortoise normally
lives in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts and include southern Nevada, and
The animal normally tries to stay out of the extremes of heat and cold.
They spend much of their time in their underground burrows which they
excavated as homes. The tortoise is considered an indicator species whose
well being generally reflects on the well being of the local
environment. Continued construction and development activities in the
southern Nevada area have brought the number Desert Tortoise down to a
On August 4, 1989 an emergency ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service
out the Desert Tortoise on the endangered species list. This was
bad news for the local real estate brokers and developers. So the real
estate developers gathered up all of their politicians* and friends and
sued the US Fish and Wildlife, BLM and Department of Justice.
In an out of court settlement they decided to remove the Tortoise from
7,000 acres on 11 different properties.** The land was located in
Henderson, Green Valley and the Northwest Las Vegas corridor, Summerlin.
The developers forced the defendants to accept a small cash stipend and
through a convoluted distribution of responsibilities among government
agencies, the tortoises were caught and moved. The builders did have a
point. Much of the land in question was already developed or disturbed.
These were not good places for a Tortoise to be so they trapped and
While there are other pens and a research facility, part of the
settlement landed some tortoises in a large pen at the BLM Visitors
Red Rock. The Desert Tortoise seems to be happy in Red Rock with the BLM
and tourist mobs to protect them.
The Tortoise pen abuts the northwest corner of the Visitor Center as a
large enclosure. They are almost never out though. Persistence does pay.
These photos were taken on July 1, 1999 after many other attempts to get them on camera.
We were not disappointed. First we saw one tortoise, then another. A
small contingent of visitors began to watch as it appeared that these
two Tortoise were fighting. The 'battle' continued for some time and
everyone watched with great interest.
Finally it appeared that the smaller of the two was making a get away as
it turned its back on the larger adversary. In fact we witnessed a
mating ritual before. The crowd quickly dispersed to give the couple
* This involves areas in Henderson, on Clark County lands and in the northwest part of
**That would make the average parcel size just over 636.3 acres