The desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii (Cooper), was listed as threatened in the Mojave Desert in 1990. Important factors for the listing were severe recent mortality in tortoise populations and a general decline throughout this century. Recent trends in tortoise populations were examined by plotting total captures of adult and juvenile tortoises from 2.6-km2 study plots, rather than by mark-and-recapture population estimates. Changes in relative abundance of tortoises were greatest among large tortoises in the western Mojave Desert, which may reflect high levels of human disturbance, and among small tortoises, which may reflect either lower ability of searches to detect small tortoises or greater mortality of tortoises during drought conditions in 1986-90, or both factors. Further collection of data on population trends is needed, particularly in years with higher-than-average precipitation. Retention of the threatened status of the tortoise is a conservative strategy for the conservation of natural resources but should be reassessed when additional data are available.