Need A Pet? 100 Captive Desert Tortoises Need Forever Homes

Desert Tortoise [Photo courtesy Arizona Game and Fish]

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department is encouraging the public to consider adopting a tortoise or two.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), due primarily to illegal breeding, the Department has more than 100 tortoises of various ages and sizes available for adoption. AZGFD allows for one tortoise to be adopted per person, per household, but an additional tortoise of the same sex can be adopted if it is placed in a completely separate enclosure, as these reptiles can be territorial. Federal law prohibits desert tortoises from being transported across state lines.

Captive tortoises grow up to about 14 inches long and can live upward of 100 years. They cannot be released back into the wild, however, because they could spread diseases that harm wild populations.

Arizona residents interested in providing an adoptive home should review the Tortoise Adoption Program page on the department’s website. How to properly care for a desert tortoise, including instructions on how to build an enclosure/burrow, also are included.

AZGFD staff will also hold a free virtual tortoise adoption information session via Zoom at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 10, for anyone interested in adopting.

Once the burrow is completed, potential adopters can submit an online application at www.azgfd.gov/tortoise. All applications will be reviewed, and applicants will be contacted by the department. Adopters must have a securely enclosed yard and construct a separate enclosure/burrow to protect the tortoise from potential hazards, such as a fire pit, unfenced pool or dogs.

The enclosed area must include an appropriate shelter for the tortoise to escape Arizona’s extreme summer heat and a place to brumate — a seasonal period of inactivity similar to hibernation — during winter.

While it is illegal to remove Sonoran desert tortoises from the wild, it’s also illegal to allow them to breed in captivity. AZGFD and its partners must spend valuable resources and time each year to find homes for dozens of captive tortoises.

“One female tortoise living to 80 years old can produce more than 800 babies in her lifetime,” Wolf said. “This is why it is crucial that we work together to ensure that tortoises are not only placed in proper homes, but with responsible owners.”

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