July 2, 2008

Desert tortoise Mojave Max dies at Red Rock habitat

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Desert tortoise Mojave Max examines a cactus in May in his habitat at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center. Photo by Gary Thompson

Mojave Max, the desert tortoise whose emergence from his burrow was a closely watched harbinger of spring's arrival in Southern Nevada, died of natural causes Monday, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman said.

The tortoise's age was estimated at 65.

During the past nine years, Clark County students have predicted the date when Max would awaken from his winter slumber, which is called brumation, the reptilian form of hibernation. Ground temperature contributes to the tortoise's emergence from his underground refuge.

As Southern Nevada's answer to Punxsutawney Phil, Max's decision to emerge from his burrow at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center to seek the sun was always greeted with fanfare. The event would draw thousands of valley students to research tortoises and temperatures of the Mojave Desert.

Max usually would get his first peek of springtime sunlight around mid-March.

Desert tortoises can live up to 80 years in the wild and up to 100 years in captivity.

Max's successor has not been named.