Wildlife Sanctuary Forced To Euthanize Hundreds Of Tortoises
August 26, 2013

Wildlife Sanctuary Forced To Euthanize Hundreds Of Tortoises

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Officials with the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center outside Las Vegas, Nevada say they are about to put down hundreds of tortoises because of a lack of funding.

Officials said they plan to close down the 220-acre wildlife reserve in the coming months and euthanize desert tortoises they have been taking care of since 1990, according to a special report by the Associated Press (AP).

The refuge will stop taking in new animals in the coming months, and those new arrivals in the fall will be euthanized. This problem is a reflection of the housing bubble that affected much of Las Vegas, including the neighboring houses around the wildlife refuge.

The AP said the Bureau of Land Management paid for the facility using fees imposed on developers who disturb tortoise habitat on public land. When the housing market in the area began to swell up, so did the budget for the wildlife refuge. However, as the recession hit in 2008, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center was unable to reach its $1 million annual budget. So far, the center has only been able to bring in about $290,000 in the past 11 months.

"With the money going down and more and more tortoises coming in, it never would have added up," BLM spokeswoman Hillerie Patton told AP.

Officials said they expect to put down more than half the facility's 1,400 inhabitants in the coming months in preparation for the closure at the end of 2014. However, a few of the tortoises will be spared, because biologists examined a few individuals that are healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

The AP said that no more than 100,000 tortoises are thought to survive across Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, which once hosted millions of the reptiles.

While the population of tortoises continues to decline, good news did emerge a few years ago as scientists reported finding offspring of a giant Galapagos species that had been believed to be extinct for 150 years. Researchers said they discovered a hybrid tortoise species on the island of Isabela that appears to have the Galapagos species flowing through its veins.

The scientists of the Galapagos study said thirty of the 84 animals who were offspring of the extinct tortoise species were found within the last 15 years. A tortoise can survive for over a century, which means there is a high probability that many purebred Galapagos are still alive, according to the scientists.