Tortoises Through the Lens – it’s not just a photography class, but a movement to change the continuous struggle that tortoises must go through because of human interference. Rachel Wilson, TTTL Student
Until you’ve met and made the acquaintance of a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), you’ll never know just how incredible are these creatures. I met this tortoise (at left) on April 3 in Joshua Tree National Park, and as I sat beside and talked to him/her – all the while snapping photographs – I felt the same joy I feel each time I am lucky to have one of these chance encounters. Here before me is a distinct and unusual species that has roamed North America for 50 million years or longer, and has existed in its current form – before the Mojave was a Desert – for roughly 18 million years. Beyond humility and respect, I can think of few other ways to behave and honor the presence of this incredible creature. To see these fellows succeeding and feasting on greens warms my heart. Yet their lives are far from without challenges….
Icons of the Mojave Desert, they were once ubiquitous, and many southern Californian’s unwittingly diminished their numbers by taking them home and keeping them as pets. I had one during the earliest years of my life, and it troubles me to think that my family (and the family from whom we adopted the tortoise) helped to possibly push this species towards the danger zone. Urban/suburban sprawl pushed development and housing directly into their Mojave and Colorado desert habitats, and by 1990 landed them on the Threatened list of the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, without human intervention and corrective actions, Gopherus agassizii will eventually land on the Endangered Species List and their lives will hang in the balance.
Enter my good friend David Lamfrom, the California Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. In 2008, David created a wonderful program entitled Tortoises Through the Lens; “a community-based action project created to provide thirteen California high school students with an opportunity to explore and experience the Mojave Desert.” For two years, David and his long-time partner (and great wildlife photographer) Rana Knighten, led these thirteen teenagers on trips into the Mojave. They would not only be given cameras and learn how to photograph under David’s tutelage, but they’d also learn how to commune with nature and tortoises and would document their encounters through their photographs. In late 2010, the results were published in a beautiful book entitled Tortoises Through the Lens – an important collection of images and words. This 50-page book details their natural history; the serious threats they face; and what the future has in store for them. Beautifully designed and printed by Sunbelt Publications – and only a mere $14.95 – this book should be added to your collection. Most importantly, proceeds go directly towards tortoise conservation. David Lamfrom is one of those true desert tortoise heroes; I ask that you please support the tortoises and his work with your purchase. Thank you!
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