Arizona Game and FIsh Department - Managing Today for Wildlife Tomorrow: Arizona Game and Fish Department

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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.

Find out what to do if you find a desert tortoise


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Basic Captive Desert Tortoise Requirements General Care




Health and Illnesses

Cold Weather Care

Hatchling Care


Information for anyone interested in adoption a desert tortoise
Thank you for your interest in adopting a desert tortoise.  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.  Remember that it is not only illegal to release a captive desert tortoise into the wild, 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.  You may adopt a desert tortoise if you are a permanent resident of Arizona. 

State-sanctioned Adoption Facilities

Bullhead City, Kingman, Lake Havasu, Phoenix adn Yuma: 
Arizona Game and Fish Department's Wildlife Center
Office: (623) 236-7202; Toll-Free (844) 896-5730; Email:
Prescott: Heritage Park Zoo (928) 778-4242
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 morafkai) 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 per household."

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Captive Desert Tortoise Downloads

NOTE: The following files are PDFs and require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

- Desert Tortoise Adoption Packet [pdf, 56kb]
- Desert tortoise adoption application [pdf, 16kb]
- Desert tortoise adoption checklist [pdf, 256kb]
- Captive desert tortoise food list [pdf, 13kb]
- Native Plants for Desert Tortoises Brochure
- Burrow construction directions for greater Phoenix and Tucson areas [pdf, 259kb]
- Burrow construction directions for greater Bullhead City, Lake Havasu, Kingman, and Yuma areas [pdf, 653kb]
- Information on artificial full spectrum lighting
[pdf, 16kb]
AZGFD Turtle Pages
- Turtle Conservation and Management
- What to do if you encounter a desert tortoise
- Desert tortoises
- Ornate box turtles
- Mud turtles
- Painted turtles
- Nonnative turtles
Related AZGFD Links
- Heritage Fund
- State Wildlife Grants
- Arizona Reptile and Amphibian Regulations
- Wildlife News
- Watchable Wildlife
- Nongame Species Management
- Living With Venomous Reptiles
- Sign up for AZGFD eNews
External Links
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- Tortoise Group
- California Turtle and Tortoise Club
- Desert Tortoise Council
- Turtle and Tortoise Preservationl Group
- Turtle Survival Alliance
- SW Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

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