California Turtle & Tortoise Club


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habitat entranceIn 2004 California State University, Bakersfield donated an area of the campus for the establishment of a Desert Tortoise Habitat (DTH). The DTH was built by members of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club (CTTC). Kern CTTC oversees and maintains the DTH in a state natural to the desert tortoise. To protect its occupants, the area is not open to the public.

The Kern CTTC Desert Tortoise Habitat occupies about 0.85 acres and consists of twenty pens, each housing a single desert tortoise. The pens range from 20 x 20 feet to 50 x 50 feet. Each pen has its own underground burrow, a variety of vegetation and a dedicated water bowl.

Thanks to grants from the Alfred and Virginia Harrell Foundation in 2018 and 2019, the DTH was enclosed by a permanent secured fence and the automated watering system was upgraded to include self-filling water bowls in each pen.

It is not unusual to see a tortoise in the middle of a clump of Prickly Pear (Opuntia) cacti while the sprinklers are on, receiving a shower from the runoff of the cactus pads. Or soaking in a water bowl on a hot summer morning. Each burrow has a large mound of dirt over the underground living quarters. In the spring of 2020, Jack (our 3-legged pirate) dug himself a secondary burrow into his mound resulting in a tortoise condominium. We typically have 3 or 4 pens with secondary burrows that are dug by the occupant. And, as in the wild, they can be found in various small depressions, or pallets, which they have dug for a cool evening stay.

Our oldest desert tortoise, Grandpa, is estimated to be about 60 years old. He is healthy and well cared for. Although there was that time when we found that he had a temporary roommate, a skunk! In fact, it’s kind of like the wild west at the Desert Tortoise Habitat: skunks, rabbits, snakes, owls, hawks, coyotes, kit foxes and…especially ground squirrels. The squirrels sometimes share burrows with desert tortoises. Squirrels are our biggest problem; they can use the burrow as a dump for their excess dirt, potentially burying a tortoise when he is brumating (reptile “hibernation”, a dormant state during cooler weather), resulting in death. To ward off the ground squirrels we have installed high frequency noise emitters (HFQs). The HFQs sense the movement of a warm-blooded animal and emit a loud noise that cannot be heard by tortoises or humans, but can scare a squirrel away. We have also been experimenting with predator urine, coyote and red fox, placed around the perimeter of the habitat as a deterrent.

JROTC volunteersMembers of the Kern CTTC Habitat committee regularly patrol the DTH to ensure that all our desert tortoise inhabitants remain safe and sound. Throughout the year volunteers (Kern CTTC Club members, JROTC members and other community service programs) join a dedicated work party to pull weeds, ream burrows and plant new vegetation.