SAVING THE SONOYTA MUD TURTLE
The Sonoyta mud turtle has evolved as an aquatic species in one of the driest parts of the Sonoran Desert. With webbed feet and an innate ability to swim, this turtle depends heavily on what little water remains in the Southwest. The easiest way to identify a Sonoyta mud turtle is by its location, since it’s the only turtle inhabiting its very small range. The U.S. population has been reduced to a single reservoir within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, named Quitobaquito Springs. In Mexico, these turtles inhabit a couple of small, still-flowing sections of the Rio Sonoyta.
Quitobaquito Springs and the Rio Sonoyta, like many aquatic habitats in the Southwest, are threatened ecosystems. The major threat: groundwater withdrawal. Lower water tables could ultimately drain the water on the surface altogether, meaning Sonoyta mud turtles would face a load of trouble.
In 2005, the Center filed a citizen petition to list the Sonoyta mud turtle as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. We swooped in to take this action after the species had languished for eight years as a candidate for listing, a designation that offers no federal protections.
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