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Adopt a Tortoise



What is the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program:

It is a program where captive-bred desert tortoises are adopted out to families and individuals. This program was started in conjunction with the California Department of Fish and Game, when the desert tortoise was listed as threatened.

Where do tortoises for adoption come from?

All tortoises adopted out are donated to The Living Desert by members of the public. They were either: no longer able to keep them; moving out of state; had accumulated too many hatchlings to accommodate; found them wandering in the street or their yard.

Can I buy a desert tortoise?

No. It is illegal to buy or sell desert tortoises. If anyone tries to sell you one, check it out. It may not be a desert tortoise, but if it is, please report the matter to California Department of Fish & Game, CALTIP, 1-800-952-5400. Let the seller know this is illegal and that they can be adopted at no cost.

Can anyone adopt a tortoise?

Yes, if they complete an “Application for Turtle/Tortoise Adoption” form satisfactorily, and are aware they have certain responsibilities towards the tortoise such as providing veterinary care, proper accommodation, and proper diet.

What does “proper accommodation” mean?

A completely fenced or walled yard. The tortoise must not be able to see out or it will be more likely to burrow its way out. A specially constructed enclosure within a yard is also acceptable. Hatchlings must be kept indoors in a terrarium with a “Vita Lite” as many predators eat them if they are kept outdoors.

Who would not be allowed to adopt a tortoise?

A child without the written permission of a parent or guardian. Someone who specifically stated they would not provide veterinary care. Someone whose yard was obviously not adequately walled or fenced and who was also not prepared to make a secure enclosure for their tortoise. Someone living in an apartment who wanted to adopt a large tortoise (they need to be outdoors). Applicants from out of state; since it is illegal to take desert tortoises out of California without written permission from the California Department of Fish & Game.

How many tortoises can someone adopt?

That depends on how much room you have. Two females will usually get along quite well. Two males, unless they grow up together, will constantly fight over territory. We WILL NOT adopt tortoises as male/female pairs to people who intend to breed them. If you adopt more than one tortoise, you may need to provide separate habitats if they don’t get along as they mature. We will always take one tortoise back if there are problems with fighting.

When will I get my tortoise?

Since we rely totally on donated tortoises, we cannot predict when one will become available. As a rule, there are none during the winter months when they are hibernating. Hatchlings are usually brought in from August to October. Adult males are the most common and (except during winter) you may get one in less than a month. When a tortoise becomes available, we will contact you, but otherwise you will not hear from us.

Is care and feeding information provided for people adopting tortoises?

Yes. Included in this packet are a set of care sheets, diet information and lists of plants their tortoises should or should not eat. Also provided is an application to join the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, so they can attend meetings and receive the “Tortuga Gazette” which provides a great deal of help and information on caring for desert tortoises.

Isn’t it illegal to possess a desert tortoise?

Not if it has been in captivity for many years, is obviously not wild (i.e. will come up to humans and let itself be touched without going into its shell), or was born in captivity. All desert tortoises, even hatchlings, must be registered with the California Department of Fish & Game and we provide a registration form for this purpose. There is no charge. It is not necessary to register turtles or other species of tortoise. By the way, if the “tag” gets rubbed off your tortoise, you simply apply for a new one and let them know it is a replacement.

Do we adopt out any other kinds of animals?

Yes, but only other kinds of turtles and tortoises donated to us for adoption. This includes water turtles, exotic tortoises, etc. The same rules apply as for desert tortoise adoptions.

What about wild desert tortoises?

We never knowingly adopt out wild-caught desert tortoises. It is illegal to remove them from the wild, even if they were found walking across the road out in the desert. In such cases, the person finding such a tortoise should very carefully pick it up, carry it off the road in the direction it was already traveling for about 20 ft. and put it down. (If you put it back where it was coming from, it will only start to cross the road again.) Please do not turn it upside down, and handle it as little as possible. It will be very frightened of you and may void its store of water which could kill it.

What if the tortoise I adopt turns out to be sick?

It seems that most captive desert tortoises are now carriers of Upper Respiratory Tract Disease which recurs from time to time, especially if they are stressed. We try not to adopt out sick tortoises without treating them first. Being adopted into a new family and put in a new “territory” is considered stress. The symptoms are a runny nose and eyes, and wheezing breath. This must be treated by a veterinarian. If you cannot afford this, you can donate the tortoise back to The Living Desert for treatment. You will not be able to re-adopt this tortoise and it is unlikely you would be allowed to adopt another tortoise, since providing veterinary care was one of the provisions in the adoption application form. All pets get sick sometimes. If you cannot afford veterinary care, it would be better not to have a pet.

Can I give my tortoise to a friend if I can no longer keep it?

Yes, but make sure they register it. This also applies to hatchlings. You owe it to your tortoise to make sure the person you are giving it to knows what is involved and required. Make sure, if you are giving to a child, that a parent or guardian knows and agrees.

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