On rare occasions, desert tortoises appear on the trails at the Desert Botanical Garden. Volunteers keep a close watch on them so that visitors don’t disturb their slow journey down the Garden path back to their burrows. 

Gloria, a volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden, feeds a willow flower to a wild desert tortoise.

Gloria, a volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden, feeds a willow flower to a wild desert tortoise.

Gloria, a volunteer at the Garden, explains that humans should not touch the tortoises because of spreading diseases to them that they take back to their habitat. She also says that tortoises store up  water in a bladder which takes up approximately 40 percent of their body. If tortoises become scared, they release the water. The water becomes hard to replenish quickly because the tortoise gets its water supply from grasses and plants. This situation could prove fatal.  

A wild desert tortoise invades one of the cactus beds at the Desert Botanical Garden.

A wild desert tortoise invades one of the cactus beds at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Protected by law, some tortoises make their homes within the confines of the Garden. The Garden also maintains a habitat for two adopted tortoises Penny and Poppy in the preschool area. The 3- and 4-year-old children watch the tortoises in their habitat. During the summer, Penny and Poppy appear individually at the Flashlight Tours where visitors get to experience them first-hand, and Gloria gets to educate visitors about them. 

Penny, an adopted desert tortoise, struts her stuff at Flashlight Tour night.

Penny, an adopted desert tortoise, struts her stuff at Flashlight Tour night.

Visitors ask how long the tortoises live, and Gloria tells them they can live to be a hundred. Because of the long life span, Gloria says this becomes a big consideration when someone adopts them. The tortoise may live through three generations of an adopted family. 

Gloria says the 12-year-old adopted tortoises come when called on Flashlight Tour night because they know they receive treats. She lets the children in the audience feed them willow flowers. Tortoises have no teeth, so the children have nothing to fear. Gloria also gives Penny a prickly pear fruit to devour. 

“it’s like a five year old getting into her mom’s lipstick,” says Gloria. “You know ear-to-ear and elbow-to-elbow.” 

She laughs as she says that Penny possesses good manners because as she eats her prickly pear fruit,  she spits out the little, hard seeds and puts them on a pile. 

Penny, the desert tortoise, devours a prickly pear fruit.

Penny, the desert tortoise, devours a prickly pear fruit.

These desert creatures roam the Garden and live in their adopted habitat, but their numbers decrease with time because of predators and carelessness by humans. Gloria and volunteers at the Garden do their best to educate the public about desert tortoises. 

Photos by Janice Semmel

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