Desert tortoises are thriving in Northern Nevada
The desert tortoise is not native to Northern Nevada, but those that are here are thriving in the care of dozens of tortoise lovers.
To help preserve tortoises, the Douglas-Carson-Reno Desert Tortoise Club meets twice a year to share information and stories about their beloved pets.
“In the fall, we talk about getting our tortoises ready for hibernation, and in the spring when they come out of hibernation, we talk mostly about health and nutrition,” said Ed Kleiner of Gardnerville.
The club will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Douglas County Library in Minden.
“It’s more a roundtable discussion for experienced owners and people who want to be owners,” Kleiner said. “These are anecdotal meetings where we share stories, talk about problems and share solutions.”
Kleiner got involved with tortoises through his business, Comstock Seed Co., on 43 acres including 9 acres of wetlands, where he grows expensive native seeds for restoration work in the Mojave Desert and Southern Nevada.
“There are utility corridors and solar projects in the Mojave, and we do habitat mitigation there as well as in Las Vegas due to urban expansion,” he said.
Because the desert tortoise is an endangered species, its habitat becomes a priority whenever solar projects, fires, mining, cattle or ATVs clash with the needs of the reptile, Kleiner said.
“I’ve had tortoises as pets for 16 or 17 years. They’re a very fun pet. They’re interesting and smart and low maintenance,” he said.
Tortoise owner Eileen Cohen said the semi-annual meetings are free and lots of fun.
“Some people are bringing tortoises to swap – maybe it belonged to the kids and the kids are off to college, so the parents aren’t able to care for it any more,” Cohen said.
Others might need to find a new home for their tortoise because they’re moving out of state, and tortoises can’t be taken across state lines, Kleiner said.
Cohen said prospective owners are checked before adoption takes place.
“If anyone wants one, we check their yards first. Wire fences are no good. I have a cinderblock fence, and my whole backyard is for my tortoises. I plant clover for them and other natural vegetation,” she said.
Tortoise owners need to learn about proper nutrition, too, she said.
“I supplement their diet once in awhile with corn on the cob or kale, and my babies love peas.”
When it comes to hibernation, Cohen soaks her tortoises in Gatorade before putting them into a box in the garage or an unheated bedroom. The ideal temperature is 50 degrees. The Gatorade keeps tortoises from drying out, and she will wake them up once or twice during their hibernation to soak them again.
“Each one has a different personality, and they like to be social. I’ve always liked turtles ever since I was a kid,” she said.
Tortoises were brought up to Northern Nevada when Las Vegas was booming, she said.
“Before any dirt was turned, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought them up here for adoption, and they’re thriving here with the right care,” Cohen said.
The club has about 20 members, but a few new people join each time members meet.