Wild+Life is a new monthly e-newsletter with news about wildlife-watching activities, wildlife natural history, habitat and research projects benefitting wildlife, fun facts and upcoming events.
In This Issue
- Living With Wildlife: Desert Tortoise Adoptions Now Open
- This Wild Life: Desert Tortoise Volunteer
- Give Back to Wildlife at Tax Time
- Walk on the Wild Side: Red Rock State Park
- Mark Your Calendar: Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival
- Video of the Month
If you’re a permanent resident of Arizona, you may be eligible to adopt a “homeless” Sonoran desert tortoise — helping the state’s wildlife in a decidedly nontraditional way. Before adopting one, keep in mind that it’s a long-term commitment: A captive tortoise can live up to 100 years.
Desert tortoises are typically adopted only from April 1 to September 30 because they are inactive during the cooler months. Families who want to adopt often use winter to prepare their tortoise enclosure and shelter.
Is your home tortoise-friendly? These desert dwellers require a yard or enclosure with at least one shelter and must have access to shade, sun, water and dry ground at all times. It’s also preferable to offer a variety of plants for the tortoise to munch on.
Captive desert tortoises can never be released into the wild or allowed to breed. They are no longer prepared to survive in the wild and may transfer disease to others. Breeding desert tortoises in captivity is irresponsible, as it contributes to the overpopulation problem (just like with dogs and cats).
Learn more about captive desert tortoise husbandry and find out how and where to adopt a tortoise. – Mike Demlong
“It’s 4 a.m. and my alarm is going off. I get up and let the dogs out; it’s already hot, or really cold, depending on the time of year. Either way, it’s still dark, and soon I’ll be driving 45 minutes to a remote location, where I will ditch the car and set out on foot through hills and huge boulder piles in search of desert tortoises.
While it may not sound like a fun way to spend my day off, it really is. Back in 1999 when I went for the first time, I was hooked. The desert at sunrise is spectacular, and the remote location seems a world away from my usual life in downtown Phoenix.
Growing up in Oklahoma, I loved all turtles. I was always on the lookout for them: in lakes and ponds and woods near my home, and also on roadways, where my family would stop and rescue them from traffic. Here in Arizona, I assumed the desert tortoises behaved like the box turtles I’d grown up observing. For years, I searched the roadways hoping for a glimpse, but never saw one. Then I heard Roy Averill-Murray speak about a study the Arizona Game and Fish Department was conducting in the Tonto National Forest, using volunteers to help find the tortoises. I signed up.
Clearly, I knew nothing about desert tortoises, their habits or their habitats, but I quickly learned enough to be helpful. After investing in a GPS unit and some good hiking boots, I began going out almost weekly, learning radio telemetry along the way. I fell in love with the often challenging terrain and the always endearing tortoises. I observed many other animals (javelina, coyotes, a plethora of rattlesnakes, tarantulas and the occasional Gila monster). I learned many desert plants, especially those favored as food or shelter by our Sonoran desert tortoises.
Over the past almost two decades, various studies have been ongoing at the site. Some years, we went out several times a week; others, only a handful of times. I’ve made many good friends and had some great experiences as a volunteer. Now I have a pretty good idea where to find tortoises. And still, I get really and truly happy each time I find one.”
–Yvonne Betts, desert tortoise volunteer
Your state taxes don’t support Arizona’s wildlife, but your donations do! This tax season, help Arizona’s wildlife: “Make a mark” on your tax return.
If fabulous photo opportunities, easy hiking and wildlife-watching opportunities are your thing, consider a visit to Red Rock State Park, near Sedona in central Arizona.
This park features year-round wildlife-watching opportunities, accessible via a looped trail system. All park trails are rated easy to moderate.
Oak Creek, a short walk from the visitor center, offers the riparian habitat that is this park’s most fruitful place to look for wildlife. Year-round, visitors see and hear belted kingfishers, American kestrels, Gila woodpeckers, northern cardinals and great blue herons, while spring and fall bring migrating warblers and flycatchers.
The entrance is on Lower Red Rock Loop Road off state Route 89A, between Sedona and Cottonwood. A scenic alternative is to head south from Sedona on 89A and turn left onto Upper Red Rock Loop Road. Part of this road is dirt.
There is an entrance fee (currently $7 per adult, $4 per youth ages 7–13). The Red Rock Pass, administered on U.S. Forest Service land in the Sedona area, is not valid for entry to this state-managed park.
For more information, visit https://azstateparks.com/red-rock/ or call 928-282-6907.
Did You Know?
Healthy male northern cardinals are a bright red color at this time of year. Why? It’s probably to advertise what good mates they will make. The intensity of a cardinal’s redness is related to what he’s been eating. When a female sees a bright male, she knows he is healthy and in charge of a good territory.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park and the Verde Valley in central Arizona
The Verde Valley of central Arizona hosts diverse wildlife in spring. This festival opens the door to the valley’s rich and varied habitats and their wild inhabitants, providing a special recreational experience to anyone interested in the natural world.
Cost: The registration fee for the entire festival is $15 per person or $30 for a family (two adults plus any number of dependent children ages 6–18). It includes park admission, parking, access to exhibits and booths, the Thursday afternoon social and the Saturday movie night. Field trips, guided walks, workshops, seminars and some special events have an additional fee.
Each year, the Arizona Game and Fish Department adopts out hundreds of captive desert tortoises. Because they have spent part, or most, of their lives in captivity, they can no longer be released into the wild. Adopting one is a great way for people to give back to Arizona’s wildlife. Watch the video