On an ATV ride through the Nevada desert, you might feel peaceful and in awe of the vast scenery, an adrenaline rush from the high speeds, or (most likely) a combination of the two. What you’re less likely to feel is concern about endangered species in the area, either because you didn’t think there were many animals that lived in the desert, or that the sparse human population in the area means the wildlife can be left to their own devices. As one of the planet’s most extreme ecosystems, deserts are particularly sensitive to climate change. The animals that have specially adapted to survive in the hottest, driest part of the world have difficulty surviving when the desert becomes even hotter and drier.
Here are a few of the animals being threatened by changes in their ecosystem you may get a rare sight of on our educational Las Vegas ATV tours.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
This subspecies of the bighorn sheep is similar to those found in other parts of the country, but have adapted to living in the extreme desert conditions, being able to go days without water, and safely withstand several degrees change in their body temperature. Once present across the desert in huge numbers, over-hunting and diseases brought by domestic sheep were hugely damaging to the desert bighorn’s population. Thanks to conservation measures over the past fifty years, the population has been gradually rising, and today their conservation status is considered ‘sensitive’.
Desert Nesting Bald Eagle
Perhaps the animal most representative of North America, bald eagles are one of the most majestic and powerful creatures, and spotting one soaring overhead is always a special moment. In the mid 20th century, the pesticide DDT caused a huge drop in all bald eagle numbers by interfering with their reproductive cycles. At the brink of extinction, conservation efforts were so successful that the total bald eagle population is now thriving, but the special population of desert-nesting eagles is still in trouble. Increased groundwater pumping is drying up the streams these birds like to nest around, and only about 60 breeding pairs were present in 2008.
The Desert Tortoise
Moving slow may be the key to a long life, because desert tortoises can live up to 80 years! Unfortunately, fewer and fewer are making it to this ripe old age, thanks to habitat loss, poaching, and an increased number of predators attracted by the human waste in desert landfills. These amazing reptiles are able to live in parts of the desert where ground temperatures reach 140 degrees thanks to their knack for digging underground burrows to escape the heat in. Their slow nature makes them vulnerable to people who want to take them as pets, and as a result, anyone looking for a pet tortoise should investigate the proper channels, and adopt only from accredited rescues rather than private sales.
We can all do our part to keep the special animals of the desert around for many years to come. Next time you have the option to make a more environmentally friendly purchase, or help your local wildlife organization, you’ll be helping the animals of the Nevada desert, even if you live hundreds of miles away.