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Desert Tortoise Sanctuary to Close, Inhabitants to be Euthanized

Aug 26, 2013 03:00 PM EDT

Because of budget cuts, more than a thousand desert tortoises will lose their home in Nevada's Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, and hundreds of the threatened reptiles will likely be euthanized as a result of the loss.

Federal funds for the conservation center on the outskirts of Las Vegas are running out, The Associated Press reported. The Bureau of Land Management was able to finance the center by raking in funds from fees imposed on real estate developers who chose to build on the tortoises' habitat, the AP reported. The funds were once flooding in, but after the housing market contracted as a result of the recession, development stopped and the funds for the conservation center came to a trickle. The center is struggling to come up with the $1 million it needs annually to stay in operation. Less than $300,000 has come into the center in the past 11 months.

As the money disappeared, the fate of the conservation center and its endangered inhabitants became more clear. The center will close its doors at the end of 2014, and more than half of the center's 1,400 desert tortoises will be euthanized.

Of course, the tortoises that are healthy will be released back into the wild. But many of the center's tortoises are too feeble to be released or are infected with disease that does not need to be spread further into the wild.

"It's the lesser of two evils, but it's still evil," the US Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray, told the AP.

Millions of desert tortoises once thrived across the barren lands of the American West and northern Mexico, but now no more than 100,000 are thought to exist. The IUCN Red List considers the desert tortoise to be a "vulnerable" species.

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is the state reptile of both California and Nevada.

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