California Desert Tortoise Granted Temporary Endangered Species Status

The Mojave desert tortoise's population density has declined to less than 10 individuals per square mile.
Hatchling Desert Tortoise
A hatchling desert tortoise. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey

The Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) has been granted temporary endangered species status by the California Fish and Game Commission. The commission’s panel voted 4-0 to advance a petition filed by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. That petition recommends an upgrade for the reptile for threatened to endangered.

These advocacy groups believe that changing the status of the desert tortoise from threatened to endangered would help the reptile survive the threats that endanger it, including climate change, habitat loss, and off-road vehicle use.

Defenders of Wildlife notes that in the 1970s, the population density of the reptile in California was approximately 150-350 individuals per square mile. By 2019, the population density dropped to less than 10 individuals per square mile. The group says at this density, they won’t survive.

“The Fish and Game Commission made the right decision today to move forward with the uplisting process for the Agassiz’s desert tortoise,” Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement released to the media. “Our state reptile desperately needs strengthened protections if it is to survive the barrage of threats the species faces including climate change, habitat loss and increased off-road vehicle use.”


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The Mojave desert tortoise ranges from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in Southern California and can also be found in Arizona, Nevada, as well as in areas in Mexico. It grows to about 8 to 10 lbs. and eats mostly weeds and leafy weeds in the wild. The desert tortoise is a protected species and it is speculated that more desert tortoises can be found in captivity than in the wild.

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