Featured Project: The Secretive Life of the Desert Tortoise

Today’s #SciFund Featured Project is Melia Nafuss’s inspiring The Secretive Life of the Desert Tortoise.

Early on this project was called “Merlin the Tortoise Dog”. Why? Because this project is about training a dog.

Really! Melia is studying Desert Tortoise populations. While we suspect that these tortoises are declining, it’s hard to tell. They are very secretive, hide in burrows, and are otherwise incredibly good at camouflaging themselves in their natural habitat.

Enter the Trtoise Dog. Dogs, with their incredible sense of smell, are fantastic at finding tortoises. A well-trained dog can find these little hidden guys and thus ensure we know – how many are there? Are they declining? Why? These are critical questions for conservation biology.

Personally, I love this project because it feels like a holiday movie, just waiting to happen. A story of woman and her dog, alone, in the desert, trying to find the last hidden tortoises. It begins with the lone scientist, frustrated, searching, but unable to find them. But wait – on a trip to the pound with a friend, she notices a dog nosing up against some turtle cages, and inspiration strikes! And thus begins their quest of friendship and turtle-finding. Are you listening Hollywood?

But what’s the best part of a movie like this? The training montage! And that’s where you come in! Help fund the training montage! Merlin may start off as a scrappy undisciplined young thing, but with your help he will become a champion tortoise finder and help us to understand this threatened species!

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