With federal funds rapidly evaporating, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center will be closed by 2014. Officials plan to euthanize hundreds of tortoises they've been caring for since the species was added in 1990 to the endangered species list.
“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray, told the Associated Press.
The Bureau of Land Management has paid for the facility with fees imposed on developers who disturb tortoise habitat. But with the recession and housing market contraction, the bureau struggled to meet the center's $1 million annual budget. Over the past 11 months, developer fees have only totaled $290,000.
Scientists are examining the facility's 1,400 inhabitants to determine which animals are strong enough for release. Former pets make up the majority of the animals at the center, but most of the animals are too feeble to be released or are infected with disease.
While 100,000 tortoises survive in the wild, millions once burrowed across the Southwest. Picking up the animals can lead to severe dehydration, because they often void a year's worth of water when handled.