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Tortoises are high priority at Edwards Air Force Base

Edwards Air Force Base's 412th Civil Engineer Group hosts desert tortoises, which recently became listed as endangered species
Posted at 10:51 PM, Jun 06, 2024

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (KERO) — Young desert tortoises are thriving at Edwards Air Force Base as part of a head-start program to help increase the survival rate of the endangered species.

  • Seventy young desert tortoises are thriving at Edwards Air Force Base
  • Edwards Air Force Base, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance are among those involved in caring for 70 young desert tortoises.
  • Edwards encourages those on base to be on the lookout for desert tortoises and offers tips if you encounter a desert tortoise.


It made history for achievements in flight... breaking the speed of sound... setting new records for altitude... but today... the base is home to a project that moves at a much slower pace.

I'm Steve Virgen... your neighborhood reporter at Edwards Air Force Base... where scientists are leading a team working to increase the survival rate... of young tortoises.

"The history of the desert tortoise here, they've been here a long, long time."

Col. Joel Purcell is one of many wanting to extend that duration.

He's commander of the 412th Civil Engineer Group at Edwards Air Force Base.

He says the desert tortoise is important at the base and even more now.

Just last month, the desert tortoise became listed as an endangered species in California by the state's Fish and Game Commission.

"One of the tools that we can use to help recover the population is to do the head-starting process," says Melissa Merrick of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Merrick, the associate director of recovery ecology, is excited about the head-start project that also includes the Living Desert Zoo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the nation's Geological Survey.

Thanks to their efforts, 70 desert tortoises successfully emerged from their winter sleep.

They are following the tortoises closely as each has a tracking device.

She tells me they're eating well and thriving.

"They're building their burrows and doing all things that are very tortoise-y. Behaving like tortoises. And that's a good sign," Merrick says.

Edwards also has other desert tortoises in captivity.

Some of the tortoises help with educating those on base, says Misty Hailstone, a wildlife biologist.

This tortoise, named Flash, is part of an adoption program.

Seven families have adopted desert tortoises, Purcell said.

"And we use them as an outreach mechanism to get people excited and involved. … We get a lot of enthusiasm. People just love our tortoises, says Hailstone of the EAFB Environmental Management Division

Purcell says: "Well, we're proud of the mission here at Edwards. And, we're proud to be able to host the desert tortoise and ensure that we can continue the mission here without negatively impacting their environment."

Edwards officials encourage visitors on the base to be on the lookout for desert tortoises, especially near roadways.

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