For some, a dog or cat will do just fine. But for others who are considering adopting something uniquely Arizona, say hello to a captive Sonoran desert tortoise.
“Many people don’t even consider opening up their homes to desert tortoises, but they make fantastic and personable pets,” said Tegan Wolf, Arizona Game and Fish Department Desert Tortoise Adoption Program coordinator. “It’s rewarding to hear stories from those who have adopted a captive tortoise and made them part of the family because they’re a unique alternative to traditional family pets. They offer many of the same life lessons to children and can provide just as much companionship and personality as a dog or cat.”
Due primarily to illegal breeding, the department has dozens of tortoises of varying ages and sizes available for adoption. Captive tortoises grow up to about 14 inches long and can live upwards of 80 years, however, they cannot be released back into the wild because they could spread diseases that harm wild populations.
Arizona residents interested in providing an adoptive home can submit an online application at www.azgfd.gov/tortoise and find an information packet on how to properly care for a tortoise, including instructions on how to build an enclosure/burrow. Those applying to adopt a tortoise will be contacted by the department once their application is reviewed and approved.
Adopters must have a securely enclosed yard or 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.
The department typically adopts one tortoise per household, but an additional tortoise of the same sex can be adopted if it is placed in a completely separate enclosure as they can be territorial. Federal law prohibits desert tortoises from being transported across state lines.
While it is illegal to remove Sonoran desert tortoises from the wild, it’s also illegal to allow them to breed in captivity. Each year, AZGFD and its partners spend resources and time 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 tortoises are not only placed in proper homes, but with responsible owners.”
For more information about AZGFD’s Tortoise Adoption Program or to provide a donation to help the department cover costs for tortoise food, shelter and medical expenses, visit www.azgfd.gov/tortoise.
If you suspect someone is illegally breeding Sonoran desert tortoises, please contact the AZGFD Operation Game Thief hotline at 800-352-0700. Those submitting a tip can remain anonymous.
Editor's Note: Information from the Arizona Game & Fish Department.