Last year, students in the Projects, Research, and Design class wrote a grant to the AZ Game and Fish Dept. Heritage Fund to build a desert tortoise habitat in the school’s courtyard. They received the grant, but did not have enough time to actually begin construction. That was the job of this year’s Ecobiology students. After spending much time in the classroom learning about desert tortoise physiology, anatomy, behavior, adaptations and ecological relationships, as well as captive care, the students got to work on building the habitat.
The enclosure was built with the help of master sustainable builder Bert Scott, along with much assistance from Sky Islands parent, neighbor, and eternal supporter Danny Clark. The walls were built using polypropylene bags filled with a mixture of soil and cement, which were then plastered using a hydraulic lime plaster. This type of plaster, which is much safe and environmentally friendly compared to standard lime plaster, was provided by Natasha Winnik at Originate Natural Building Materials. To complete this massive undertaking, several all-day Saturday workdays were required, where a massive outpouring of students, family, friends, and neighbors showed up to lend a hand and leave their mark on this incredible experience.
After building the enclosure, the students constructed a burrow, researched and developed a list of native food plants for the tortoise, and then traveled to Desert Survivors Nursery where Sky Islands’ good friend Jim Verrier helped the students select the right plants, as well as impart some of his vast knowledge of all things botanical. After the irrigation was installed and the plants were put in the ground, it was off to the Desert Museum, where Renée Lizotte, the Tortoise Adoption Coordinator, led the students behind the scenes and helped them find the perfect tortoise.
After much dedication and hard work on the part of Sky Islands staff, students, friends, family, and neighbors, as well as tremendous support from all the stakeholders involved in the project, Sky Islands welcomes Abuelo, our new tortoise, in his beautiful habitat!