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Photo credit: Dennis Caldwell

Morafka’s desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) | ESA status: none

Morafka’s desert tortoise

Morafka’s desert tortoises may live up to 35 years, but they lack the Endangered Species Act protections of other desert tortoises, leaving them vulnerable to myriad threats.

Morafka’s desert tortoise habitat

Morafka’s desert tortoise populations are found primarily on the rocky slopes and bajadas of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico.

Morafka’s desert tortoise diet

Though they are one of the largest native herbivores in their ecosystem in terms of mass, the tortoise’s reach is limited – this slow traveller will have to pass up any vegetation taller than a half-meter.

Adapted to desert life

Morafka’s desert tortoises have a few tricks up their shells for dealing with desert environments. They are well adapted to conserve water and spend 95 percent of their time in their cool burrows. Neighbors in those burrows may include ground squirrels, pocket mice, kangaroo rats, spotted skunks, kit foxes, burrowing owls, Gambel’s quail, poorwill, roadrunners, and a number of other reptiles and insects.

What are the threats to the Morafka’s desert tortoise?

Unlike desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert and the Beaver Dam Slope in Utah, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Morafka’s desert tortoise was denied protection by the federal government in 1991. This leaves it vulnerable to many threats, including off-road vehicles, urban sprawl, and livestock grazing. Because of these threats, Morafka’s desert tortoise populations have declined by 51 percent since 1987.

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