If you've always had a soft spot for tortoises, the Desert Tortoise Natural Area near California City in the Mojave Desert is just the place you'll want to visit. Founded in 1974 by private citizens whose goal was to save the habitat of California desert tortoises, the Preserve Committee continues to seek ways to protect this fragile population.
Spring is the the best time of year to see desert tortoises out and about. Tortoises hibernate in deep burrows during the cold months and estivate in shallower ones during the summer. By conserving water and energy, these remarkable creatures are able to live in a region most animals would find impossibly inhospitable.
Unfortunately, the California desert tortoise has a formidable enemy, one that has decimated the population in the Preserve over the last twelve years. An upper respiratory disease, probably caused by a virus, has reduced the number of native tortoises from more than 200 per square mile to less than 20. The disease, found in tortoise populations in other areas, may have been introduced into California by infected tortoises released into the wild by humans.
The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee is working to find ways to protect California desert tortoises from illness and other threats. For more information, write to Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, Inc., 4067 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501.