Land Purchase for the Vulnerable Bolson Tortoise in Mexico

Project Cost: $164,835

Funding Raised: $164,835

$3.81 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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Consisting of sweeping plains separated by low mountain ranges in northern Mexico, the Bolsón de Mapimí is a unique remnant of the Chihuahuan Desert grassland ecosystem and home to the Bolson Tortoise.

This imperiled tortoise was discovered only as recently as 1959; legend has it that a group of biologists working in the Bolsón de Mapimí were at a ranch and saw chickens eating out of a large tortoise shell. They inquired about the origin of the shell and local community members explained that it was “la tortuga grande del desierto,” the big turtle of the desert. The Bolson Tortoise is the largest tortoise species in North America and can grow to be around 18 inches in length.

At-risk for becoming overexploited as a food source, Mapimi Biosphere Reserve within Bolson de Mapimí was established to protect the endemic Bolson Tortoise. This area was also among the first biosphere reserves designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Latin America. While the Bolson Tortoise population within the limits of the reserve is recovering since its drastic exploitation in the mid-20th century, it is still threatened throughout the rest of its range.

One of these areas is Rancho San Ignacio, a privately-owned ranch within the reserve consisting of 43,243 acres – an area nearly three times the size of Manhattan. Its flat desert floor is punctuated by a series of small mountains and hosts a healthy Bolson Tortoise population of possibly hundreds. Through the purchase of this ranch property, Rainforest Trust and partners Habio, A.C. and the Turtle Conservancy are working to establish Mexican Bolson Tortoise Preserve to formally protect the preserve’s namesake species.

Fast Facts

Chihuahua, Mexico

43,243 acres

Key Species (Based on IUCN Red List)
Bolson Tortoise (VU)


Agricultural expansion, mining

Land purchase to create Mexican Bolson Tortoise Preserve

Local Partner
Habio, A.C.

Financial Need

Price per Acre

Total Carbon Storage (Mt CO2)


The Bolson Tortoise has a range as far as New Mexico and Arizona in the USA, but today its largest population is limited to an area around the Mapimi Biosphere Reserve.

While formally assessed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2007, recent data indicates that its threat level is higher and an update of the IUCN Red List assessment is in progress. It is estimated that the property to be purchased contains hundreds of Bolson Tortoises. Other native species in the Mapimi Biosphere Reserve include 200 species of birds, 39 reptiles, 28 mammals and five amphibians.


The increased price of corn has stimulated the expansion of industrialized, irrigated agriculture in the region, with potential for encroachment onto the Bolsón de Mapimí Biosphere Reserve.

In addition, mining interests are active in the area. Purchase of Rancho San Ignacio will prevent the encroachment of these incompatible uses on the key habitat for the Bolson Tortoise.


There is a local population of approximately 350 individuals a few kilometers from the proposed preserve, which is a very low population density.

There are no issues of resettlement or conflict within Rancho San Ignacio, as no people reside on this property.


Rainforest Trust seeks $164,835 to help partner Habio, A.C., together with the Turtle Conservancy, spearhead an effort to create a privately protected area of 43,243 acres through the purchase of Rancho San Ignacio.

The new protected area will be managed in collaboration with local institutions and communities to ensure long-term protection of its biodiversity.