US Geological Survey
Return to the wild: Translocation as a tool in conservation of the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Date of this Version
Translocation could be used as a tool in conservation of the threatened Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) by moving individuals from harm’s way and into areas where they could contribute to conservation of the species. Numerous factors may affect the success of translocations, including the conditions experienced by tortoises in holding facilities while awaiting translocation. The tortoises available for our translocation study had been provided supplemental water during their years spent in a captive holding facility, potentially inducing carelessness in water conservation. In addition to generally investigating the efficacy of translocation, we compared the effects of continuing with the effects of ceasing the holding facility’s water supplementation regimen. After exposure to one of the two water regimens, all tortoises were given the opportunity to hydrate immediately prior to release. We examined behavior, body mass, carapace length, movement, and mortality of tortoises for two activity seasons following release to the wild. Water supplementation was correlated with high rates of carapace growth and distant movements by males after release. Lengthy movements following translocation may be problematic for conservation planning, but this should be evaluated in light of the goals and circumstances of each translocation project. Although the mortality rate was 21.4% in 1997, data suggest that drought conditions at the site rather than the translocation itself negatively affected the tortoises. None of the tortoises died during their second season at the site. Our results indicate that translocation should be considered a useful tool in conservation of the Desert Tortoise.
Published in Biological Conservation 136 (2007).