Do your part, stay smart about desert tortoises
Posted June 15, 2020
Monsoon Awareness Week is June 14-19
PHOENIX — Much-needed rain brings out desert wildlife in Arizona. Animals may wander in search of mates, moisture and, if necessary, to escape flooding.
Desert tortoises are one of several amazing species that can be encountered during Arizona’s monsoon. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) urges the public to follow these important guidelines when coming across a desert tortoise:
- Keep wild tortoises wild: Do not remove a tortoise from the wild. Taking a wild tortoise home is illegal in Arizona. Additionally, most tortoises stay in the same small area their entire lives, so a tortoise that has been relocated will not know where to find food and shelter and likely die. For those who are interested in sharing their home with a desert tortoise, and reside within Arizona, they should do it legally and responsibly through the AZGFD Tortoise Adoption Program.
- Keep captive tortoises captive: Do not release a captive tortoise into the wild. “We cannot stress enough how detrimental it is to let a captive tortoise go free in the wild,” said Cristina Jones, turtles project coordinator. “Captive desert tortoises cannot be released into the wild, as they can pass diseases to wild populations and displace wild tortoises. It is also illegal to release captive tortoises into the wild.”
- Keep dogs away from wild desert tortoises: Even the most gentle dog can pose a serious threat to a tortoise. Keeping dogs on leashes or in fenced yards is an effective way of reducing encounters with tortoises.
- If a desert tortoise is spotted crossing a busy road in a populated area, call the AZGFD Tortoise Adoption Program hotline at 1-844-896-5730. AZGFD will determine if the tortoise has escaped from captivity and needs to be reunited with its owner, or placed in the adoption program. Tortoises that have been through the adoption program often, but not always, have small tags glued to their shell with a unique identification number.
- If a desert tortoise is encountered, AZGFD biologists want to know when and where. Email details and a photo (without handling the tortoise) to firstname.lastname@example.org. “A tortoise in the road is simply trying to get to the other side, and the best thing anyone can do is to leave it in the wild,” Jones said.
There are two species of desert tortoise in Arizona — the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, found north and west of the Colorado River; and the Sonoran desert tortoise, which is protected by AZGFD.
Tortoise conservation in Arizona is supported by the Heritage Fund, a voter-passed initiative that began in 1990 to further wildlife conservation efforts in the state through Arizona Lottery ticket sales.
For additional monsoon safety information, visit the Arizona Emergency Information Network.