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‘Mohave Max’ successor has been chosen to fill role

Don Quilici
Nevada Appeal Outdoors Editor

According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), a successor has been chosen to fill the role of Mojave Max (a desert tortoise), the long-lived icon of the Mojave Desert, the Clark County Desert Conservation Program, and local environmental education efforts. The original Mojave Max died on June 30, 2008 of natural causes.

“Desert tortoises can live for 50 years, and there are records of wild desert tortoises living for up to 80 years or more,” said Polly Conrad, reptile biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “Tortoises die from predation, disease, human-related factors such as urbanization and all the associated threats. Also from environmental factors such as drought flood and fire. It is important for us to track desert tortoise population trends, including causes of mortalities, because the tortoise is an indicator species for the health of our Mojave Desert ecosystem.”

Although he is probably not genetic progeny of the original tortoise, the new Mojave Max will fulfill all the duties and have the same status of the first.

The new desert icon is a relatively young and healthy 19-year-old male tortoise that measures 12 inches long and weighs about 10 pounds.

He should be able to fulfill his new responsibilities for a long, long time.

Mojave Max is currently a resident of the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in the southwestern corner of the Las Vegas Valley. He will remain there until the new tortoise habitat is built near the Red Rock Canyon visitor center in 2010.

Meanwhile, organizers will continue to hold the annual Mojave Max emergence contest at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center.

Each year, school children are invited to guess the date when the tortoise will emerge from hibernation, or “brumation,” in his burrow. In similar fashion to Groundhog Day and its legendary icon Punxsutawney Phil, the tortoise event has been tied to the start of spring in the Mojave Desert.

In a place where there are no groundhogs to do the job, Max has been named southern Nevada’s own weather prognosticator.

The Red Rock Interpretive Association manages the Mojave Max educational program.

“It’s good that the Mojave Max program will go on, so that children can learn about the hibernation, or brumation of this animal. Keeping track of the dates that Max emerges from his burrow each year can indicate environmental trends or changes in the local ecosystem,” Conrad said.