Caring for a Captive Desert Tortoise
Desert tortoises are available for adoption if you are a permanent resident of Arizona. Captive desert tortoises are not traditional pets, but they can be fascinating animals to observe and families can gain an appreciation of desert wildlife by caring for a tortoise and watching its natural behavior. Before adopting a desert tortoise, we strongly encourage you to learn as much as possible about desert tortoises and desert ecology. Below we have provided basic information about desert tortoise care and adoption.
Attention desert tortoise and box turtle owners: Reduced-cost pre-hibernation health exams available Sept. 18
Proceeds will be used to care for tortoises in the adoption program
With summer temperatures still exceeding 100 degrees, it’s hard to imagine that winter is coming and that soon desert tortoises will begin hibernation. To help ensure your native Sonoran desert tortoise or box turtle is healthy enough to hibernate and survive the cold winter temperatures, the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Tortoise Adoption Program is sponsoring a pre-hibernation health clinic with reptile veterinarians from the Valley and Tucson.
The clinic will be held Sunday, Sept. 18 from 12-4 p.m. at the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital (azeah.com) located at 20040 N. 19th Ave., Suite C, Phoenix.
“This is a great opportunity to save money while ensuring your native desert tortoise or box turtle is healthy enough to enter hibernation, and to help other desert tortoises in need of care,” said Tegan Wolf, the coordinator of the Tortoise Adoption Program.
Health exams take approximately 15-30 minutes and will include a thorough physical exam, fecal test for parasites, and review of proper diet and care (including proper hibernation preparation). If left untreated, some diseases such as upper respiratory tract disease and intestinal parasites can be fatal. The cost will be $50 per tortoise, which is half of the normal tortoise exam price.
The veterinarians are donating their services and all proceeds from the health clinic will support the Tortoise Adoption Program and the tortoises in its care.
To make an exam appointment, please call the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital at (623) 243-5200. For more information on desert tortoise adoption, visit www.azgfd.gov/tortoise.
Information for desert tortoise adoption
Breeding of these captive tortoises and their offspring has led to a surplus of tortoises that need homes. However, we ask that you give considerable thought to being a tortoise caregiver before you apply. A captive tortoise can live up to 100 years, so be aware that a tortoise you adopt may outlive you. Please read the captive desert tortoise care information carefully and determine whether or not you are able to provide the shelter and yard enclosure a desert tortoise requires, as well as the necessary care and treatment. Desert tortoises are typically only adopted from April 1-September 30 because they hibernate during the cooler months. Often families use the winter months to prepare their tortoise habitat, constructing the burrow and enclosure.
If you decide you would like to adopt a desert tortoise, please read our packet on Caring for a Captive Desert Tortoise and review the Desert Tortoise Adoption Checklist before you apply to be sure you have fulfilled the requirements. Then, fill out the Desert Tortoise Adoption Application and return it with the required photo documentation. In some cases, we may request that you give a tortoise adoption expert permission to visit your yard to take a closer look at your tortoise habitat. After you have been approved to adopt a tortoise, we will contact you to make arrangements to pick up your desert tortoise. Your tortoise may be permanently marked so if it becomes lost and then found it can be identified by various animal care agencies or veterinarians.
Any of the state-sanctioned desert tortoise adoption facilities (below) will accept desert tortoises that can no longer be cared for by adoptive families. Typically, this occurs when adoptive families leave the state or the owner passes away. Desert tortoises cannot be removed from Arizona, so if you are a desert tortoise custodian and are moving from Arizona, you must return the desert tortoise to one of the adoption facilities. If you relocate within the state, please contact the nearest adoption facility to update your address in our records.
State-sanctioned Adoption Facilities
Bullhead City/Lake Havasu/Kingman/Phoenix/Yuma: AGFD Education Branch (623) 236-7202 or Toll-Free (844) 896-5730, TAP@azgfd.gov
Yuma: AGFD Region IV Office (928) 342-0091
Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (520) 883-3062; www.desertmuseum.org/programs/tap.html
Prescott: Heritage Park Zoo (928) 778-4242; www.heritageparkzoo.org
Regulations pertaining to Sonoran desert tortoises in Arizona
Arizona law has prohibited removal of Sonoran desert tortoises from the wild since 1988. The Sonoran desert tortoise is listed as a Candidate species by the USFWS. Lawfully obtained desert tortoises may be privately adopted, but desert tortoise adoption in Arizona is subject to specific rules.
Per Commission Rule R12-4-407(B)(1), a person may possess, transport or give away a desert tortoise or the progeny of desert tortoises legally held prior to April 28, 1989, or obtained through a Department authorized adoption program, without a special license. An individual who receives a desert tortoise that is given away under this rule is also exempt from the special license requirements. Possession limit is one desert tortoise per person. An individual shall not propagate captive desert tortoises or export a desert tortoise from this state unless authorized in writing by the Department.
Per Arizona Game and Fish Commission Order 43, "Possession limit is one desert tortoise per person per household."