Students Help Desert Tortoises

Part of the West Tech Team

We recently collaborated with educators at West Career and Technical Academy here in Las Vegas with the goal of providing the students with an opportunity to coordinate their own projects! A few weeks and dozens of emails later, six technical high school students, along with their instructor, anxiously pulled up to the front gate of our Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC), excited for the first day away from their classrooms.

The team measures a desert tortoise burrow.

The DTCC is an enclosed 222-acre (90 hectares) site located in southwest Las Vegas, Nevada, with varying sizes of enclosures. I suggested the idea for the engineering and GIS mapping students to map artificial and natural tortoise burrows in a 10-acre (4 hectares) enclosure. With the use of GPS to mark data points and flags to section off the pen into grids, the students methodically walked through the pen marking artificial and natural burrow locations and orientations. I also suggested the students check burrows for tortoises, looking for a possible correlation between burrow orientation and occupancy. This information may be useful to us when adding artificial burrows to enclosures.

The map the students produced, showing burrow locations at the DTCC.

A second group of students had a different interest—plants! Their project was to create a photo book. The plan was simple: walk the desert taking photos and identify the common and scientific names of as many plants as possible! Walking through the enclosures, they also noticed a common location for soil tortoise burrows, under the bush most commonly seen in our desert, Larrea tridenta, commonly known as creosote.

“The Desert Tortoise Conservation Center project was an amazing work experience. It gave us an opportunity to see how things worked in the real world. I got to work with some of the tortoises and see how they ate and lived in their natural habitat. We had to think about ways to make the tortoises’ life better and easier for the people to take care of.”
-Michael Vogel

Everyone here at the DTCC looks forward to future collaboration with the community!

Pamela Flores is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo Desert Tortoise Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Desert Tortoise: Rainy Day Translocation.

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