Turtle Conservation & Management
Turtles of Arizona
- Desert tortoises
- Ornate box turtles
- Ornate box turtle watch
- Mud turtles
- Painted turtles
- Non-native turtles of Arizona
Arizona has 7 species of native turtles, including aquatic and terrestrial species. This fact may be surprising, since many Arizonans can go their whole lives without seeing a turtle in the wild! The goal of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Turtles Project is to protect and conserve Arizona’s turtle species through statewide population monitoring, creation and implementation of state conservation agreements, provision of research grants, public education and outreach, and through coordination between state, federal, and private agencies.
In addition to the 7 native turtle species, many nonnative turtle species can be observed through out Arizona’s urban areas. To view the most commonly observed species, please view the Department’s Turtle Identification Chart. Throughout this website, visitors can click on scientific terms to read their definitions in the glossary and gain information on natural history, distribution, habitat, conservation, cautionary measures, and how you can help.
Did you Know? .. A hunting license is required to capture many of Arizona’s reptile species, and a fishing license is required to capture many of Arizona’s amphibian species. Protected species, such as the desert tortoise and the ornate box turtle, are not allowed to be collected even with a license.
How You Can Help Turtle Conservation in Arizona
Captive desert tortoises released into the wild can severely jeopardize local wild populations through the introduction of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD), which has been implicated in large tortoise die offs in California. Also, released tortoises can displace or disrupt areas already occupied by tortoises. It is illegal to release captive tortoises into the wild. If you have a captive tortoise that you can no longer care for, contact your regional tortoise adoption facility.
Captive aquatic turtles released into the wild can become established, potentially spread disease to native turtles and aquatic wildlife, and out-compete native turtles and aquatic species for food and other resources. Do not release captive turtles, and make sure enclosures are secure so that turtles cannot escape. In the Phoenix area, the Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group provides assistance to owners who are no longer able to care for their nonnative turtles.
Do Not Breed Captive Tortoises. It is illegal to breed captive desert tortoises. The Arizona Game and Fish Department receives hundreds of captive-born tortoises each year. The Department spends a considerable amount of effort and resources finding homes for tortoises. This takes away time for conservation efforts of wild tortoises. Tortoises hatched in captivity cannot be released into the wild. Once in captivity, tortoises must be cared for by humans for the rest of their life.
Participate in the Sponsor-a-turtle Program. The Arizona Game and Fish Department Turtles Project utilizes technical equipment such as radio-telemetry tags, GPS units, and hoop traps to survey and monitor turtle populations statewide. By donating to the Turtles Project, you will help project biologists purchase this gear so that they may continue to plan and implement conservation and management. Download the Sponsor-a-Turtle program brochure.
Obey The Law. The ban on the sale of small turtles, those under 4 inches in length, was enacted to decrease cases of salmonella infections in children. Turtles, like all reptiles, carry salmonella. Humans can become infected with salmonella through contact with feces of a turtle with salmonella. Small turtles seem to pose a high risk of salmonella infection in children because children play with and can put small turtles in their mouths. To find out more about the threat turtles can pose to children, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine website.
This law benefits turtles, as well. People often purchase small turtles on impulse because they are cute, but they can give little thought to the amount of work and space required to care for their turtle once the animal is full-grown. Once the turtle outgrows its aquarium and the smell becomes offensive, its owner, thinking he is doing his pet a favor, may release the turtle into an urban pond. By requiring turtles to be larger in size before they can be purchased, the law increases the likelihood that turtle owners will be more educated before they choose a turtle as a pet.
Watch And Enjoy, But Avoid Contact. If you observe a desert tortoise in the wild, it is best to let it continue on its way. Observing tortoises in the wild is an outstanding experience, but human handling can be deadly for wild tortoises. Tortoises store water during dry times of the year, and if disturbed, they will release their water and can die from dehydration. Find out what to do if you find a desert tortoise in your neighborhood.
Become A Citizen Scientist – participate in the Ornate Box Turtle Watch. The ornate box turtle is thought to be in decline in Arizona. Help the Arizona Game and Fish Department monitor this species by reporting any observations of wild box turtles in Arizona. Find out about the Ornate Box Turtle Watch.