Zoo Launches Gold Star Restaurant Program to Support Desert Tortoise Conservation in Hi-Desert

PALM DESERT/INDIAN WELLS, – The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens celebrates Desert Tortoise Week, Oct. 5-11, in partnership with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The Zoo is committed to raising awareness and educating the community on simple actions everyone can take to help conserve this vital and iconic desert species.

The Zoo is hosting a variety of activities to commemorate the week, including a native plant sale at
the Appel Gift Shop, a themed on-grounds scavenger hunt, and virtual tortoise talks. In addition,
the Zoo is excited to cohost a screening at the new Coachella Valley Drive-In held at the Palm
Springs Air Museum on Wednesday, Oct, 7. The event will feature the conservation documentary, Tortoise in Peril, followed by the cult-classic The Birds, along with a visit from some desert tortoise ambassadors. Tickets are available by clicking here.

The Living Desert is also proud to launch its Gold Star Restaurant program this week, which
recognizes the efforts of 35 local businesses in the Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms area that
demonstrate the sustainable practice of consistently closing their dumpsters to protect the local
community and wildlife. Over the last 50 years, raven populations have increased 1,700% around
human developments because people are indiscriminately providing food, water, and nesting
resources. These inflated raven populations decimate native wildlife including the threatened and
iconic desert tortoise. Open dumpsters and trashcans prove an especially reliable food source for
ravens, making it difficult for tortoises to thrive.

“The Gold Star Award was established as a conservation incentive to reduce the unnaturally large
numbers of ravens in Southern California,” Dr. James Danoff-Burg, Director of Conservation at
The Living Desert, said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to honor 35 local businesses and their commitment to ensuring that their trash is covered and keeping our desert home clean, healthy, and thriving.”

In late 2019 the Living Desert, in partnership with Southern California Edison, engaged 60
restaurants in Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley in a scientific study, to assess if an awareness
and action campaign to deter raven overpopulation would result in more frequently closed
dumpsters. Results indicate an average 13% increase in dumpster closure among restaurants who
received communications, representing an astounding 47 more days per year that each restaurant
closed its dumpsters.

“We’re honored to receive The Living Desert’s Gold Star Award. Frontier Cafe is committed to
reducing our impact on the environment,” according to the Owners of Frontier Café in Yucca Valley. “We
know that even simple protocols, like keeping trash inaccessible to ravens, can have a large impact
on local ecosystems.”

The Mojave desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, is currently listed as Vulnerable by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Desert tortoise populations are threatened by raven predation, urbanization, illegal collection for the pet trade, off-highway vehicles, and upper-respiratory tract infections. The Living Desert’s Healthy Desert Education Project, features the Time to Talk Trash campaign, which educates people about how the dramatic rise in raven populations has led to a decrease in tortoise hatchling survival rates.

To learn more about Desert Tortoise Week events and the Gold Star Restaurant program, click here.

The Living Desert is open daily from 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. With more than 80 acres of outdoor space,
numerous precautions, and limited capacity, there is plenty of space to socially distance. Advance
ticket reservations and facial coverings are required.

Image Sources

  • Desert tortoise: The Living Desert