Graduation Date

Spring 2018

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Social Science, Environment and Community

Committee Chair Name

Yvonne Everett

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Laurie Richmond

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Third Committee Member Name

Janelle Adsit

Third Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Subject Categories

Environment and Community


Through story, personal experience is connected to broader meaning. The stories that individuals tell about a flagship species contribute not only to the animal’s role in conservation, but also to collective human imagination and culture. The purpose of this research is to reveal the roles (social, cultural, political, and ecological) that the desert tortoise plays in the California Desert, and to uncover how these roles are demonstrated through conservationist’s narratives. This study utilizes mixed qualitative methods with the goal of discovering why the Mojave Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), an iconic and threatened species, has particular significance within the desert conservation community. Results suggest that the desert tortoise plays several salient roles in the socio-ecological landscape of the California Desert that fundamentally reflect the place-based values of residents. Six specific themes were found that reify the tortoise’s place as a surrogate species and spotlight the place of the species in the human imagination. A discussion of the results illuminates how the conservation-reliant status of the tortoise, coupled with protection of biodiversity that is accomplished by deploying the species in development debates, highlights the need for more research on the social, political, and cultural significance of the tortoise. Further research exploring how narrative demonstrates socio-cultural dimensions of flagship conservation could be beneficial to understanding human perceptions of iconic wildlife and anthropogenic impacts on a broad scale.

Citation Style