Why Tortoise?

A journey to World Turtle Day


Two of my sons have turtles. I don’t know why there are these water-dwelling creatures hanging around in their houses, apparently not doing much other than floating around, sticking their noses out once in a while.

Recently, my older son’s turtle, a red-eared slider named Ludacris after the rapper, started laying eggs. Oops, I guess he is she. The other son’s turtle is a snapper, Sheldon. He watches you closely as you go by, always. We don’t know if he is a she or not.

They sort of grow on you. You look them in the eye, and they look back unapologetic, smart-ass creatures who think they are independent, kind of like some teenagers I know.

World Turtle Day exists because these ponderous, quirky, personable creatures are not so independent. They are often endangered. Here in the desert Southwest many of us remember regularly encountering a desert tortoise marching across the road, oblivious to the whistling cars and the direction of the winds of change. We would stop our car, pick up the animal and put him on the side of the road in the same direction he was traveling in the first place. If you try to take him to the side he started from, he will just start over again right across that road.

American Tortoise Rescue, a nonprofit organization established in 1990 for the protection of all species of tortoise and turtle, sponsors annual World Turtle Day on May 23. The day was created as a yearly observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.

The founders of ATR and World Turtle Day advocate humane treatment of all animals, including reptiles. Since 1990, ATR has placed about 4,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes. ATR assists law enforcement when undersize or endangered turtles are confiscated and provides helpful information and referrals to persons with sick, neglected or abandoned turtles. Their information can be found at worldturtleday.org.

In wild New Mexico, you can find more turtles and tortoises than you might think. All these are native to our state: Big Bend slider, common snapping turtle, desert box turtle, desert tortoise, Midland smooth softshell, ornate box turtle, red-eared slider, Rio Grande cooter, Sonoran mud turtle, Texas spiny softshell, western painted turtle, western spiny softshell and yellow mud turtle.

Even here in Doña Ana County, we have a pueblo, Tortugas, and a mountain, Tortugas, named after these stubborn creatures. In June the people of Tortugas hold a celebration which includes a turtle derby.

A couple of years ago I found World Turtle Day and it inspired me to have a competition for the May Desert Exposure cover. I received so much positive feedback and artwork submissions that I thought we must have a venue to show the work off. Talking to the Tombaugh Art Gallery in Las Cruces, we arranged to have an exhibit of the art the following May. Oops, Covid-19 closed everything down that year.

So now, we can finally have our show, participants have submitted their art from across southern New Mexico and that work is displayed this month at the Tombaugh Gallery which can be found at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2000 S. Solano Drive in Las Cruces. We also have writers involved who have been submitting poems to our project which will be read at our two receptions, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, May 1, and 6-8 p.m. on World Turtle Day, Monday, May 23.

In fact, if anyone has a turtle tale or poem they would like to share, please let me know.

This is going to be a fabulous show, please join for a reception if you are able and if not, just drop by to help us “shellebrate” turtles any time the gallery is open for May, Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.