• Home
  • /
  • 4WD
  • /
  • Eco-Hack! | Video of the Week

Eco-Hack! | Video of the Week

Armed with lasers, terrestrial rovers, drones, and 3D-printed fake tortoises, conservation biologist Tim Shields looks like he belongs on a science fiction film set in the Mojave Desert. Really, though, his target is specific and aligns more with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Shields is on a mission to save desert tortoises from going extinct by carrying out “aversive training” with ravens, and he’s using cutting-edge technology to do so.

This week’s video is “Eco-Hack!”, a New Yorker documentary that follows Shields as he teams up with engineer Frank Guercio to act upon the depressing field work he’s been carrying out for over a decade. “What the [heck] is all this knowledge good for if I don’t do something?” he remarks in the film.

The desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, is found in rocky foothills north and west of the Colorado River in California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada but has been on the federal endangered species list since 1990. “There’s a fairly simple mathematical relationship,” Shields notes. “More humans equals more ravens equals fewer tortoises.” Additional threats identified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service include loss of habitat due to development, wildfire, disease, road mortality, and more. Unfortunately, in early 2024, the California Fish and Game Commission also formally recognized the Mojave desert tortoise as endangered.

What You Can Do to Help Protect Desert Tortoises

The US National Park Service offers these suggestions:

  • Slow your roll. Motorists must observe posted speed limits.
  • Keep an eye out. Watch for tortoises crossing the road, especially during rainy weather. Tortoises are attracted to puddles that form on roadways during rainstorms.
  • Always look under your car before driving away. Tortoises enjoy resting in the shade of parked cars.
  • Keep vehicles on established roads only. Vehicles will crush tortoise burrows, killing the tortoises and eggs within.
  • Be a tortoise crossing guard! Never pick up a tortoise unless it is [in] immediate danger. From a distance where the animal’s behavior remains unchanged, watch to ensure the tortoise makes it across the road safely. Take a GPS from your phone and email your sighting to neal_darby@nps.gov. Every tortoise is important as they are threatened. The NPS is currently monitoring desert tortoises and relies on sightings from the field to help protect this cool animal.

Our No Compromise Clause: We do not accept advertorial content or allow advertising to influence our coverage, and our contributors are guaranteed editorial independence. Overland International may earn a small commission from affiliate links included in this article. We appreciate your support.

Read more: Expedition Conservation | A Finnish Couple Touring Africa

Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. As Senior Editor at Overland Journal, you can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or writing about the unsung women of overlanding history. @desktoglory_ash