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Free to good home: desert tortoises
If you have a big yard and are looking for a low-maintenance pet that doesn't need daily walks or to have its litter box changed, then the Arizona Game and Fish Department has just the pet for you.
The state agency has an abundance of captive-bred desert tortoises and is putting them up for adoption through its Tortoise Adoption Program, according to Catherine Robinson, of the Yuma Field Office of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“They make great pets. A desert tortoise will get about the size of a dinner plate, which isn't bad,” Robinson said. “They do get accustomed to humans and will come out and follow you around the yard. Some people even say their tortoises will come to them when they call them.”
Robinson explained that while desert tortoises are protected in Arizona and cannot be legally collected from the wild, the breeding of captive tortoises and the return of tortoises by owners who can no longer care for them has led to a surplus of these unique animals at authorized adoption facilities. She said the facilities are at capacity and the agency is seeking people willing to adopt and care for a tortoise.
“We have been having a hard time finding people to adopt tortoises,” Robinson said. “People get tired of taking care of them because they require more effort than people think.”
She also said some of the tortoises were found after they escaped from their original owners.
“When people find them, they don't know what to do with them, so they bring them to us, which is what they should do,” Robinson added.
Desert tortoises can live as long as 50 to 100 years. They grow to be about 15 pounds and hibernate in the winter months. They eat plant material, including grasses and wildflowers.
Currently the Yuma Game and Fish has nine tortoises available for adoption, with many others being cared for at a facility at Arizona Western College until they can be adopted.
While she didn't have an exact number, Robinson said there have been so many captive-bred tortoises returned in the Yuma area that a large number had to be taken to the Phoenix Herpetological Society to be cared for.
“We just don't need any more captive tortoises,” Robinson said. “We get them all the time.”
While desert tortoises don't have the same demands as other types of pets, Robinson warns they do have certain requirements. To adopt a desert tortoise, she said you will need to have an enclosed area in your yard free from potential hazards, such as a dog or an unfenced pool. You will also need to construct a burrow for the tortoise so that it can escape the summer heat and hibernate in the winter.
Anyone interested in sharing their yard with a tortoise should visit www.azgfd.gov/tortoise for more information on feeding, caring for, and creating a habitat for a tortoise. The desert tortoise adoption packet, which includes the adoption application, can also be downloaded from that web page.
“Tortoises tend to dig out of yards a lot, so you have to secure your yard,” Robinson said. “You also have to watch out when we have monsoon weather so their dens don't cave in. If your yard isn't sufficient in food sources for them, you would either have to plant food sources or feed and water them on a regular basis.”
Robinson did say, however, that she owns a desert tortoise and it and her dog actually get along real well, with both sleeping outside in the tortoise's burrow.
If you are interested in adopting a desert tortoise, and live within the tortoise's native range of Phoenix, Tucson, Bullhead City, Kingman, Lake Havasu, and the Yuma areas, send your completed application form to your nearest state-sanctioned desert tortoise adoption facility.
State-sanctioned desert tortoise adoption facilities are located in Scottsdale, Tucson, Kingman and Yuma. A link to contact information can be found at www.azgfd.gov/tortoise.
“The Game and Fish Department receives hundreds of unwanted adult and captive-born tortoises each year, which takes away resources for conservation efforts of wild tortoises,” says Cristina Jones, Arizona Game and Fish turtle biologist. “That is one reason we discourage captive breeding and only allow adoption of one tortoise per household.”
Game and Fish also encourages schools to adopt tortoises and even offers grants to build habitats. For more information on the grants, call 1-623-236-7530.
Robinson added once captive, desert tortoises can never be released back into the wild. Doing so can jeopardize other wild populations of tortoises by infecting them with diseases.
“If someone were to release an infected tortoise in the wild, it could kill off the species,” Robinson said.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.
The Yuma Field Office of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, has an abundance of captive-bred desert tortoises now and is putting them up for adoption through its Tortoise Adoption Program. Desert tortoises can live as long as 50 to 100 years. They grow to be about 15 pounds and hibernate in the winter months. They eat plant material, including grasses and wildflowers. These unique animals are available for adoption to people who live in the the tortoise's native range of Phoenix, Tucson, Bullhead City, Kingman, Lake Havasu, and the Yuma area.