The following photographs and video of this healthy, wild juvenile desert tortoise were made by our guest Emily Curry on Sunday morning, May 3, at our unfenced Midcentury Prefab Homesteader Cabin in north Joshua Tree (cabin rental info here). We’ve seen this little guy (gal?) before, and know where one of his burrows is, but we’ve never been able to get photos — thank you, Emily!
It is very rare to see a healthy juvenile desert tortoise in the wild — this is only the third one we’ve ever seen in our time living out here. Few desert tortoises survive into adulthood due to death by predation (ravens, coyotes); disease; and adverse human activity — road and building construction, off-road vehicle use and climate change — which shrinks available habitat. (More info on threats to the desert tortoise here.)
We shared these photos with our friend Kelly Herbinson, a Board Member at the Mojave Desert Land Trust and a wildlife biologist who specializes in desert tortoises. Kelly pointed out the “tons” of new growth on the seams of the tortoise’s shell (see photo below) as evidence of good health and recent growth. The flaking skin visible around the neck (also visible in the photo below) is normal and very common, especially on juvenile tortoises. “It’s a side effect of growing quickly,” says Kelly.
Here’s our juvenile tortoise friend, with Emily’s hand for scale….