Who’s Who in the Folsom Zoo; meet Lily, a desert tortoise
Before coming to her forever home at the zoo sanctuary, Lily spent time in rehabilitation. Because she had been living in an unnatural environment without adequate food of nutritional value, she was severely deficient in calcium. This deficiency caused her shell to become very soft. She also suffered with a respiratory infection.
Desert tortoises spend up to 95 percent of their lives underground, making them elusive inhabitants of the desert. For protection from the heat and the cold, they dig burrows under bushes, in sandy soils and under overhanging rocks, even in the soil of open land. Their powerful limbs are equipped with claws to dig these underground burrows.
Because a desert climate is warm, Lily is moved from her outdoor enclosure this time of year to an indoor enclosure with heat, water and a box filled with hay for her to create a burrow. The docent animal handlers visit with Lily regularly and occasionally take her to schools and other events as part of the zoo sanctuary’s education outreach program.
In the wild, desert tortoises are most active when it rains; generally between March and June, during warm months – not scorching hot months. They absorb water from the vegetation they eat and dig shallow pools to collect rainwater. Desert tortoises also have the ability to store water in their bladders for long periods of time.
Their diet consists of a variety of vegetation, including wildflowers, grasses, perennial new growth of selected shrubs and grasses, cacti and cacti flowers. Lily’s diet at the zoo sanctuary looks like a yummy salad of fresh greens, like collard and dandelion, with a variety of different vegetables including squash (some cooked), bell peppers, green beans, snow peas and even turnips with a dressing of sprouts.
Desert tortoises have a high-domed shell measuring four-to-six inches tall and nine-to-15 inches long. The top shell is brown, gray or black, often with distinctive growth lines, while the shell underneath is lighter in color. The weight of a desert tortoise can range between eight-to-15 pounds, while their lifespan generally ranges between 50-to-80 years.
Habitat loss, spread of diseases and other factors including capture for use as pets has led to significant declines in desert tortoise populations. As a result, they are protected by both the state and federal governments. In California, it is illegal to keep a desert tortoise as a pet without the proper license.
Visit the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary to see Lily and all the residents. The zoo sanctuary is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. When the weather begins to warm, you might find Lily in her outdoor enclosure.