End Extinction (in the Park)

By Stasia Sumpaopol, 6th grade teacher

As part of the workshop I attended at the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo this past summer, I was able to rent a kit from the zoo that provides technology for the middle school students in my End Extinction intensive course to learn about the zoo's recovery efforts of desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert.

Researchers at the zoo use spatial ecology to help understand the interaction between tortoises and their environment over space and time. Understanding more about their interaction helps the zoo to determine best practices around their breed and release program so that translocated tortoises have better chances for survival. In order to collect data, researchers use radio telemetry to locate and observe tortoises in the wild which is tricky since these reptiles spend 95% of their time underground in burrows. 

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TPS students got to experience the challenges in locating hiding tortoises at Schuylkill River Park this week thanks to the generosity of the zoo. Each student was equipped with a receiver that was programed to a plush tortoise and transmitter. Tortoises were hidden all over the park, and students had to locate them by using the receivers.

Once they located a tortoise, students gathered information about its health and behavior in order to make determinations about suitable environments for release in the future. Students were able to determine that overall, desert tortoises released into wash habitats, tended to fare better as the environment allowed for easier burrowing, access to shelter sites, and an abundance of edible plants.