LAS VEGAS (AP) - A final batch of desert tortoises has been released into the wild as a refuge near Las Vegas prepares to close after over 20 years in operation.
Operators of the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center have emptied the facility in advance of its December shutdown.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to close the 220-acre center last year after its federal funding was eliminated.
The center’s contract operator, the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, has since been releasing healthy tortoises into the wild.
“It doesn’t take them very long to go out and be a real tortoise again. They have that instinct,” Mike Senn, assistant field supervisor with the Fish and Wildlife Service in southern Nevada, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The center was caring for roughly 1,400 turtles as recently as 18 months ago, but all that remain are about 50 adults awaiting shipment to facilities in Nevada and Utah.
Plans call for them to be split among a new exhibit at the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, a research facility in Battle Mountain and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah.
Another 40 hatchlings born at the center will sleep through the winter there and be released into the wild next year, Senn said.
No tortoises have been euthanized because of the closure of the center, he said, but some have been humanely killed over the past two years because they were too sick to save.
Since 1989, the desert tortoise has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The center was established in the 1990s as a place for developers to place tortoises removed from job sites around Las Vegas.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.lvrj.com
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