Wildlife officials are warning people to keep their hands off desert tortoises to help prevent the critters from going extinct.
The state Department of Fish and Game plans to paper the Mojave and Colorado deserts with 2,500 fliers that say "Hands off, partner" to educate people about the state reptile.
The armored creatures, about the size of a volleyball, are snatched as pets, depleting their numbers. The animals are already afflicted by disease, predation, cattle grazing, off-road vehicles and urban sprawl. The desert tortoise is a threatened species and removing them is illegal. Tortoise numbers in some areas have plunged from 250 animals per square mile to 10.
People feeling guilty about their pet tortoises should resist the urge to return it to the wild. Captive tortoises sometimes develop upper respiratory tract infections that can infect wild populations and contribute to tortoise losses.
-- Ashley Powers