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The iconic Mojave desert tortoise is struggling in the wild, but its population is flourishing in captivity. That has shifted the mission of the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center over time, say both the advocates and opponents of the plan to shut down the tortoise preserve near Las Vegas.

The center started out as a habitat for tortoises that were being displaced by urban development near Las Vegas. But with the area's economic slowdown, the center has evolved into what Arizona biologist Bruce Palmer calls a "drop house for excess tortoise pets."

Do tortoises born in captivity count as members of a wild species? If the species is thriving in captivity, should it cease to be labeled as an endangered species? Will released tortoises inadvertently infect native populations with the diseases that come from living in close quarters? Should Las Vegas vets be trained to perform sterilization procedures on backyard tortoises?

 

 

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Carolyn Wells in Reno, deputy state supervisor in Nevada for U.S. Fish & Wildlife

Bruce Palmer, Arizona biologist and chair of non-profit Desert Tortoise Council

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