Mojave Max, the famous desert tortoise, emerged from his burrow at 9:23 a.m. on Tuesday, March 30th, 2010. That means spring has officially arrived in the Mojave Desert!  Because the emergence of desert tortoises is well-timed with warming temperatures, this event has become a good indicator of spring’s arrival.  In a place where there are no groundhogs to do the job, Max has been named southern Nevada’s own weather prognosticator.

Mojave Max became the mascot of the desert when the desert tortoise was chosen as a symbol for the Clark County Desert Conservation Program.   It was chosen because it is a threatened species and represents the fragility of the desert ecosystem.  The desert tortoise is also Nevada’s state reptile.  Clark County collects fees for the displacement of tortoises in development projects, which it allocates to research and public outreach and education.  The program brings awareness of “respecting, protecting, and enjoying” the desert that surrounds the Las Vegas valley.

The tortoise is actually the successor to the original Mojave Max, which died in 2008.  The new desert icon is a young and healthy 20–year old male tortoise, about 12 inches long and weighing 10 pounds.

The Mojave Max educational program, managed by the Red Rock Interpretive Association, sponsors a contest each year.  Schoolchildren are invited to guess the date that the tortoise will emerge from hibernation, or brumation, in his burrow.  Through this program, children learn the importance of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, and their role in protecting it.

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