Don't take the tortoises

April 16, 2013

If you come across a wild tortoise in the desert, it’s best to leave it there. That might sound like obvious advice, but desert tortoises are continually removed from their habitat.

tortoise Once a tortoise like this one is removed from the wild, it can never return. Luckily, it can be adopted from the Phoenix Herpetological Society. (Photo courtesy of the Phoenix Herpetological Society)

No fewer than 71 desert tortoises were turned over to the Arizona Game and Fish Department last year. Bear in mind they are a protected species, and removing them is illegal.

Officials said those who take the tortoises are often well-meaning, and probably do not understand the gravity of their actions, but Daniel Marchand, curator at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, said removing the animals can have devastating consequences.

“Let’s say, for example, you take out the only male in an area where there’s a few females he’s servicing,” he said, “and now you’ve destroyed that population.”

Marchand said once these animals are removed, they can never be released back in the wild. That is because captive desert tortoises pose a health risk to wild tortoise populations.

That leaves the herpetological society with many captive tortoises in need of good homes. Marchand said the animals can be adopted, but be ready for a possible long-term commitment. The desert tortoise can live up to 100 years.