Information for anyone interested in adoption a desert tortoise
Thank you for your interest in adopting a desert tortoise. Removing desert tortoises from the wild was legal until 1989, when the Arizona Game and Fish Department protected the species from collection from the wild. 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 burrow 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. A marked tortoise can be traced back to one of our adoption facilities and returned to you. You will be asked to pay a re-homing fee to cover costs of the adoption process.
Any of the state-sanctioned desert tortoise adoption facilities 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. Remember that it is not only illegal to release a captive desert tortoise into the wild, and doing so is detrimental to wild tortoises because it can spread disease and disrupt uniquely adapted genetics in wild populations. It is also illegal and detrimental to desert tortoise populations to collect tortoises from the wild. Desert tortoises cannot be adopted outside of their natural range. You may adopt a desert tortoise if you live in the greater Kingman, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu, Kingman, Phoenix, Tucson, or Yuma areas. Desert tortoises cannot survive the severe winters that occur in the northeastern or southeastern regions of the state. Contact information for desert tortoise adoption facilities are listed below.
State-sanctioned Adoption Facilities
Phoenix: Phoenix Herpetological Society (602) 550-7029; (480) 513-4377
Bullhead City: AGFD Region III Office (928) 692-7700
Lake Havasu: AGFD Region III Office (928) 692-7700
Kingman: AGFD Region III Office (928) 692-7700
Yuma: AGFD Region IV Office (928) 342-0091
Tucson: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (520) 883-3062
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 Arizona Game and Fish Commission Rule R12-4-407 A.1, "An individual may possess, transport, or give away a desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) without a special license if that individual possessed it before April 28, 1989. An individual who possessed a desert tortoise before this date may propagate it, and hold offspring in captivity for 24 months from the date of hatching. The individual shall dispose of the offspring of desert tortoises before or at the end of the 24 months by giving them as a gift or as directed in writing by the Department. An individual who receives a desert tortoise that is given away under this Section is also exempt from the special license requirements. An individual shall not 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."
The Tortoise Adoption Program Guidelines state that as of January 2008, you may adopt one desert tortoise per household.