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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 Desert Tortoise government.

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 southwestern Utah.

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 dangerous level.

Desert Tortoise Mating RitualOn 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 moved them.
Desert Tortoise - Red Rock
While there are other pens and a research facility, part of the settlement landed some tortoises in a large pen at the BLM Visitors Center in 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 their privacy.

* This involves areas in Henderson, on Clark County lands and in the northwest part of Las Vegas.
**That would make the average parcel size just over 636.3 acres
 
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