Tortoise defenders

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to study Sonoran desert tortoise

Photo courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

An imperiled species of tortoise may have a shot at gaining federal protections, thanks to a couple of vigilant environmental groups.

WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Projects petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month on behalf of the Sonoran desert tortoise (pictured). And last week the federal agency said it would examine the creature and any threats to its habitat, reported The Associated Press.

Scientists say the reptile, which is native to the Southwest, has experienced a rapid decline; its population has reportedly dwindled by half in the last two decades.

A decision on whether or not to list the species as endangered is expected to follow a year-long study. In addition to the tortoise, the environmental groups are seeking to protect a dozen other species.