Some of the most amazing experiences of my career had occurred on the Control Plot, where I was part of a crew doing focal observations. We would follow an individual tortoise over the course of days, recording their every behavior. It showed me the true individuality of tortoises and gave me a window into the complexity of their behavior and interactions.
Then, in the midst of a drought in the mid-2000s coyotes began to kill the females in the group. Every month more carcasses were found until finally only two of the original 25 or so radio tagged females survived. As the breeding females were picked off one by one the situation grew hopeless.
With rain threatening one day, I was hoofing it back to my camp when I ran across this beautiful hatchling tortoise sitting in the bottom of a draw, perfectly positioned to get a drink. Less than a week old, it still bore the egg tooth with which it had carved its way out of its egg. Often it is this way- the tortoises themselves reassure me simply by being tortoises. Ever since I have called this particular tortoise “World’s Cutest”.