- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Easterners may have Punxsutawney Phil, French Creek Freddy and Buckeye Chuck, but when it comes to predicting the arrival of spring in the West, Mojave Max is the reptile to watch.

The decades-old desert tortoise, who makes his home in a southern Nevada conservation area, poked his scaly nose out of his den at 11:14 a.m. Thursday — less than four months after he burrowed down for the winter on Oct. 28.

Presto: spring has sprung, according to Max.

Unlike the furry groundhogs who make a show — or no show — of seeing their shadow on Groundhog Day, Mojave Max just shows up when the time is right.

“Shadows? We don’t need … shadows,” joked Phil Guerrero, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The 15-inch long, 15-pound tortoise is the poster reptile for the Clark County Desert Conservation Program, an effort to protect desert environments — and the threatened desert tortoise — from development sprawl.

Mojave Max lives on an acre compound at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas, along with 10 other tortoises.

Biologists estimate the wrinkled-face Max is 50 to 60 years old. In the wild, desert tortoises live to about 70, but they’ve been known to reach 100 in captivity.

Mojave Max has become a celebrity among school children and may be the only reptile to boast his own Web site — www.mojavemax.com.

For the past five years the conservation program has hosted a contest in which students guess when Max will emerge. The winner’s class gets a field trip and pizza party.

The goal, said program coordinator Christina Gibson, is to get children interested in earth sciences.

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