High-Tech Tortoises Hit the Wild

San Diego Zoo insitute aims to boost species survival rates.

By Susan Taylor and Joseph M.D. Young
|  Saturday, May 7, 2011  |  Updated 3:54 PM PDT
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High-Tech Tortoises Hit the Wild

San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research

San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research

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Dozens of high-tech desert tortoises are making a new life for themselves — and possibly future generations — in the wild.

On April 27, 36 tortoises were released in an area just outside Las Vegas by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research (SDZICR) conservation program, part of a mission to boost the species' dwindling population.

VHF radio transmitters the size of a small stack of quarters were fitted onto the tortoises' shells, giving scientists data on the animals' movement and habitat choices.

“We are using science to refine translocation methods that we can use to ensure desert tortoises have the greatest chance for survival," said Paula Kahn, Ph.D.

It may be a slow journey for the tortoises, but it’s nothing compared to the time it would take for their population to recover from diminishing numbers.

“It takes a very long time for a tortoise to grow to adulthood,” Kahn said. “If we wait for all of these tortoises to grow up and be adults, it could be 25, 50 years …But if we take healthy tortoises and put them out into that population, it increases that population right away.”

Along with the transmitters, 24 of the tortoises will sport GPS trackers that will record their movements every 30 minutes, relaying to scientists where the animals travel during the most active part of the day.

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