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January 30, 2008
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ALONG THE WAY: Mojave Max

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mojave max

This is David Bert with another stop Along the Way.

Kathy August, BLM Ranger... And who was our next guesser? Lauren! OK, did you guys guess too?

Christina Gibson, CCDCP... "The first year of the contest, 1999, we had a 5th grade student named Lauren win the contest. Her and her class won a trip to Red Rock and she won a t-shirt."

Christina Gibson, with the Clark County Desert Conservation Program.

Christina Gibson, CCDCP... "This year we have really expanded the contest. There are a lot more prizes that will be offered to the winner, and the winner’s class. Including passes to Wet n Wild, a pizza party, passes to Mountasia, t-shirts, medallions, awards, the list goes on and on and on. And as we are continuing to develop this contest we’re getting more donations for prizes to be added to that list."

The prizes are for a contest established by the Clark County Desert Conservation Program called the Mojave Max Emergence contest. To win Clark County school children must guess the correct day and time that a desert tortoise named Mojave Max will emerge from his burrow in Red Rock Canyon.

Christina Gibson, CCDCP... "We established this contest to draw attention to the Mojave Desert, the desert tortoise, the seasons of the desert in which we live, and how they impact our lives. But that’s not the end of the story. There’s a lot of other things involved. There’s what he eats, there’s why he goes into hibernation, there’s biological factors, there’s weather factors, there’s a lot more to be learned because Mojave Max comes out of his burrow rather than just a date and a time and a contest."

In much the same way as Punxsutawney Phil provides school children in the east with a regional resource for learning about the environment it is hoped that Mojave Max can become a focus for children in Clark County.

Ron Marlow, Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno... "And we wanted to give the students in Clark County an opportunity to become involved in a regional conservation program that centers around desert tortoise conservation."

Although the contest is open only to schoolchildren this is a great family project. If your child enters you might want to have some ideas on how to help them make an ‘educated’ guess. Ron Marlow, a professor of biology at the University of Reno has some tips on how to predict when Max will make his yearly appearance.

Ron Marlow, Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno... "Students who want to make an educated guess as to when Mojave Max will emerge can go to the library and look for printed materials on desert tortoises and on desert environments. There are also a large number of web sites that have information on desert tortoise natural history. There are National Weather Service web sites that give average daily temperatures for our area, and students can go look at that information and see when daytime temperatures start moving from the 70s into the 80s."

Temperature is, without a doubt, the number one consideration in determining when tortoises will emerge from their burrows. It’s important to learn about the history of the seasonal temperature changes in both the air and soil in order to make a prediction, but why?

Ron Marlow, Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno... "Tortoises are ectotherms. That means they get their body temperature from their surroundings. And when it cools off in the desert in the fall tortoises slow down and become inactive. And they seek shelter in burrows they construct underground."

Conversely, in the spring when the weather warms the tortoises become more active and leave their burrows to forage.

Ron Marlow, Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno... "Tortoises eat grasses and flowers mostly in the spring and early summer. Sometimes in the later summer and fall they’ll eat dried grasses and dried plants, but most of the energy tortoises get from their food comes from spring wildflowers and grasses."

The weather warms, the flowers bloom, the birds’ nest, and the tortoise comes out of its burrow. Making a prediction seems simple. But the contest isn’t about guessing the date and time or the prizes. It’s about becoming a better citizen.

Ron Marlow, Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno... "To accurately guess the emergence time for Mojave Max students will need to learn something about our unique environment. They’ll have to do a little bit of research, and they’ll have to understand the natural ebb and flow of life in the desert. And they will remember that for most of their lives."

Most of the families that move to Clark County each day don’t come from a desert environment. They aren’t instilled with an appreciation of the deserts beauty, and because of that the desert suffers. The Clark County Desert Conservation Program hopes that the Mojave Max Emergence contest will help to change that. Not with prizes but by showing our children that the desert environment is a complex and living entity so that as they grow up they’ll understand the importance of protecting it.

Learn more about Mojave Max

See discussion rules.

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