I was walking down a wash in Chaos Canyon, west of Tucson, this morning, when I came across two tortoises evidently in the throes of a pitched battle.
One was already on his back. (That means he was losing.) He waved his legs, and struggled to roll. His breathing was audible and labored, liquid oozed from his backside, and occasionally squelchy farting sounds did as well. Losing precious moisture through urination even can be damning to these slow-metabolizing and slow-moving desert dwellers. I mentioned they were in a wash, but it has only rained twice there all summer (I have a rain gauge up the canyon). Being on one’s back for any length of time when you generally rely on gravity pulling your lungs open away from your shell is also a problem.
The other tortoise loomed over him, regularly bobbing his head aggressively, biting the downed animal’s feet, and lying on him to hold him down whenever he gained any momentum to rock back up.
I wondered if I should intervene. I don’t like to see animals suffering, and obviously the guy on his back was in a bad way, breathing and hydration wise. But this was an ongoing conflict the other tortoise seemed determined to end. (A very slow conflict, mind you. It was like watching baseball.) For all I knew, the guy on the ground deserved it. So I walked away with only video, leaving the tortoises to duke it out.
Further apologies for quality of crappy cell phone camera quality of the encounter. I recommend turning up the volume.
If you would like to to learn more about Gopherus agassizii, check out the Desert Museum or ask Taylor Edwards.