CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) His mother says Mason Soracco has wanted a tortoise since he was six. So, earlier this year the family adopted a female desert tortoise from the Tortoise Group, a Nevada non-profit, the only authorized organization to adopt out desert tortoises. He named her « Darwin. »
« She keeps me company and she’s really silly, » says Mason.
But Darwin had a surprise. No one suspected Darwin was expecting.
Sometime about a month ago when no one was looking she dug a nest in the backyard and laid eggs.
One day there were little tortoises.
« My mom and dad were in the back yard looking at something, » remembers Mason. « I went to check it out and there they were. »
Just two at first, then over the next few days six more.
They presented an opportunity and a problem. They are a threatened species, native to the deserts of Southern Nevada where some of their natural range has been disappearing. Over the years a number have been adopted here in the north.
Unlike their mother, these guys had a chance to eventually be released to the desert, helping restore the wild population.
In fact, the U-S Geologic Survey needs healthy hatchlings for a long-term project aimed at restoring natural vegetation and wildlife on damaged lands in the south.
But the tortoises were vulnerable to predators and disease. There was also a fear they would soon become used to human company, no longer eligible for a return to the wild.
Experts said they needed to get them south quickly.
What eight-year-old boy with baby tortoises wouldn’t want to keep them?
Mason might have, but he soon saw the bigger issues here.
« He realizes that they will all be together, » says his mother « and he’s able to help the population of the desert tortoise through the conservation research group. »
The airlines wouldn’t allow them on board, but after calls were made, N-DOT’s frequent flights to and from Carson City and Las Vegas seemed the best, quickest solution.
So, early Friday morning Mason handed them over to none other than Governor Sandoval, who it turns out was on the flight and had also adopted a desert tortoise this year.
The two exchanged notes on their experiences of caring for these animals and then the eight tiny reptiles were carried to the plane by the governor himself.
It was, we imagine, a bittersweet moment for an eight-year-old, but one with which Mason was OK.
« My mom told me where they would be going and that may have been the only place where they would be safe. We only tried to keep them alive. »
Actually Mason did more than keep them alive. He kept them healthy.
They’ll spend the next four or five years in a natural, but protected setting.
When they are big enough that they are no longer easy prey for predators, they’ll be released to the wild where they’ll help not only in the restoration of their species, but their environment.
It was a good ending.