Caring for a Captive Desert Tortoise
Each year the Arizona Game and Fish Department adopts captive desert tortoises that cannot be released back into the wild because captive tortoises can transmit diseases that can decimate our wild population. They are nontraditional pets, but are fascinating animals and families can gain an appreciation of desert wildlife by caring for a tortoise and watching its natural behavior.
Under state law, desert tortoises are available for adoption for permanent Arizona residents only.
Before adopting, it is strongly recommended that you to educate yourself about desert tortoises, desert ecology and what’s required to properly care for one. Adopters should also consider that healthy tortoises can live upwards of 80-100 years and should have a long-term plan in place in either, a will or other succession plan as the tortoise may outlive its owners.
Tortoises are typically only adopted from April 1 to Sept. 30 because they hibernate during the cooler months.
How to adopt
- First educate yourself
- Review the Desert Tortoise Adoption Checklist
- Fill out the Desert Tortoise Adoption Application
- E-mail the completed application and photos of the tortoise’s constructed habitat to: TAP@azgfd.gov or mail it to TAP 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086.
- Questions? Contact the Desert Tortoise Adoption Hotline 844 896-5730.
Please allow at least 48 to 72 hours for your application to be reviewed. Approved applicants will be contacted to arrange pickup of their tortoise. Per Arizona Game and Fish Commission Order 43, “possession limit is one desert tortoise per person per household.”
Adopted tortoises may be permanently marked so if it becomes lost and then found it can be identified by various animal care agencies or veterinarians. Note: the Tortoise Adoption Program does not microchip tortoises.
Information for Desert Tortoise Adoption
An adopted tortoise will require a shelter and enclosure to be constructed to ensure it doesn’t escape. Pools, ponds and other bodies of water must also be gated to prevent the tortoise from entering, as they cannot swim. Additionally, the enclosure must be built to keep a dog from getting to the tortoise.
The shelter should:
- Be large enough for the tortoise to enter, turn around and exit
- Be impacted with insulating dirt on top and around the burrow if it’s above ground
- Must remain dry and internal temperature must stay between 70 and 85 degrees in summer and no lower than 50 degrees in winter
- Be shaded during extreme summer temperatures
Remember that breeding of these captive tortoises is illegal and has led to a surplus of tortoises needing homes.
Captive tortoises cannot be released in the wild
Under state law, desert tortoises cannot be removed from Arizona so if tortoise custodian plans to move from the state or passes away and no succession plan is in place (such as a will), it must be returned back into an approved adoption facility. If the tortoise is relocated 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