TWENTYNINE PALMS ( — It was a long and slow wait, but desert tortoises are finally roaming free in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Officials say 35 tortoises were recently released at the Sand Hill training area of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

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The hatchlings had been living in a small, fenced area on the base for the past nine years.

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Although they still look small, they’ve been deemed big enough to survive on the outside and have been equipped with radio transmitters to track their movements.

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The Corps hopes to eventually release 1,200 tortoises in the area.