As a stalemate continues between armed federal forces and Nevada ranchers, the reptile at the center of the controversy has mostly escaped notice. What is this desert tortoise for whose future the Bureau of Land Management has sent snipers into the Silver State?
Desert tortoises are interesting creatures. Without really doing much, they became an endangered species, got 500,000 acres of land, survived dozens of nuclear-bomb tests, and caused an uproar over states’ rights. And an examination of the animal’s biology suggests it may have other advantages over its human enemies.
As the federal government brainstorms ways to protect these Testudines without triggering the next Sagebrush Rebellion, maybe we should ask ourselves who the real endangered species is here.
1. They’re ready for global warming. Desert tortoises can withstand a surface temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Most humans have trouble enduring temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. They don’t look for trouble. Desert tortoises spend 98 percent of their lives underground.
3. They don’t need water. Desert tortoises can survive a year or more without access to water. We can’t.
4. They’re getting the calcium we should be getting for stronger bones. Desert tortoises regularly eat soil to maintain high calcium levels. According to the World Health Organization, most human adults consume little to no dairy food and have calcium intakes less than the recommended 500 milligrams a day.
5. They keep their pipes clean. Forget Chobani, desert tortoises eat rocks to help their digestive systems. They also don’t have McDonalds, ice cream, or movie-theater popcorn.
6. They know how to share resources. Desert tortoises live in burrows, which they sometimes share with more than 20 other tortoises. As evidenced in the Bundy case, sharing is not really our strong suit.
— Alec Nixon is an Agostinelli Fellow at National Review.