Arizona Game And Fish: 'Keep Wild Tortoises Wild'

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, July 20, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, July 20, 2020 - 9:04am

tortoise on road
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Arizona has two desert tortoise species: Sonoran and Mojave.

When the monsoon rains move in, desert tortoises often move around looking for food, water and mates. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is advising people on how to handle encounters with wildlife.

“We want people to keep wild tortoises wild,” said Stacey Sekscienski, who oversees the state’s tortoise adoption program. “If you’re hiking and you’re in a remote area and you come across a tortoise, leave it alone. It’s a wild tortoise, it knows where it’s going and it’s illegal to take them from the wild. 

Sekscienski said most tortoises found in urban areas have been kept as pets and they’ve either wandered away or people have let them go thinking they’ll return to natural living. But releasing captive tortoises is illegal because they  can pass diseases to wild populations. 

If you spot a tortoise in your neighborhood or on a busy road, you can contact the state’s Tortoise Adoption Program at 1-844-896-5730.

close up of tortoise
Arizona Game and Fish Department
It's illegal to remove a tortoise from the wild in Arizona.

“We can help you decide whether it’s a desert tortoise, if you think it’s injured, we can, you know, help you make that decision and whether it needs to be brought in,” said Sekscienski.

The Department currently has about 60 tortoises and adopts out about 300 per year. Arizona has two species: the Sonoran desert tortoise, protected by Arizona Game and Fish, and the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, found north and west off the Colorado River. 

If you encounter a tortoise in the wild, state biologists would like to know where and when you saw it. Send details to [email protected]. You can also send a photo without touching the tortoise.

“It’s a little bit of citizen science, you know, getting input from the public if they are seeing wild tortoises out,” Sekscienski said. “It just helps our biologists kind of keep a check on where the populations might be doing okay, if no one’s seen one for a while. It just gives them more information for their database and their research moving forward.”

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