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Army suspends relocation of Ft. Irwin tortoises

October 11, 2008 |  2:41 pm
Desert tortoises continue to struggle in California. Times Staff Writer Louis Sahagun reports:

TortoiseThe Army's National Training Center at Ft. Irwin on Friday suspended its effort to move California desert tortoises off prospective combat training grounds and onto nearby public lands because the animals are being hit hard by coyotes.

The first phase of the $8.7-million translocation effort began in March, when about 670 tortoises were airlifted by helicopter out of the southern portion of the desert base northeast of Barstow to new homes in drought-stricken western Mojave Desert areas.

Since then, at least 90 translocated and resident tortoises in those areas have died, most killed and eaten by coyotes, according to federal biologists monitoring the project.

"We shut it down because of the mortality rate," said John Wagstaff, spokesman for the base.

"It will remain on hold until the Army and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine the reasons behind it."
Biologists theorize the problem may be connected to severe drought conditions, which have killed off plants and triggered a crash in rodent populations.

As a result, coyotes, which normally thrive on kangaroo rats and rabbits, are turning to tortoises for sustenance.

They also point out that translocated tortoises tend to wander, sometimes for miles, making them lumbering targets for hungry predators.

Photo: John Vandewege / Los Angeles Times

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