Desert Tortoises: Wild and Pets

Desert Tortoises: Wild and Pets

Desert Tortoises:  Wild and Pets

Can I keep my pet tortoise?
Citizens can serve as custodians of desert tortoises if the desert tortoise was acquired before August 4, 1989 or adopted through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved program. Currently, the Tortoise Group is the only authorized adoption group in Southern Nevada. You may also receive a tortoise from another person and register it on the Tortoise Group website to make it legally yours. Contact Tortoise Group at 702-739-7113 or go to for more information.  Pet tortoises may not be taken across state lines without written permission from the Nevada Division of Wildlife (702-486-5127). Permission from the appropriate agency of the state you are traveling to may also be required. It is illegal to buy or sell a desert tortoise. Pet tortoises are not to be released into the desert.
Where can I learn how to properly care for my pet tortoise?
Information about how to care for your pet desert tortoise can be found on the Tortoise Group website:
Can I adopt a desert tortoise?
Tortoises born in captivity can be legally adopted by Clark County residents, but wild tortoises may NOT be removed from their wild habitat. Contact Tortoise Group at 702-739-7113 or for more information.
What can I do to help the endangered desert tortoises?
While enjoying the desert, you can make a positive difference by staying on roads, not littering, and not disturbing wildlife or their habitats.
What do I do if I find a desert tortoise wandering in a developed area?
Tortoises found in urban and suburban areas of Clark County, Nevada, are considered stray pet desert tortoises.  If you have found a tortoise in an urban area, place signs around your neighborhood to let your neighbors know you found a tortoise.  If no one claims it, you can either keep the desert tortoise and register it on the Tortoise Group website to make you the legal custodian, or you can find someone else who is willing to take the tortoise.  Never release a pet desert tortoise into the wild!
What do I do if I find a desert tortoise in the desert?
Leave it alone, unless it is in imminent danger.  Wild tortoises are protected under the Endangered Species Act.   Tortoises in undeveloped desert or on roads through undeveloped desert areas are not to be collected without a permit.  If the tortoise is in danger from road traffic, you may pick it up, hold it level, and move it several yards beyond the road edge in the direction in which the tortoise was heading.  Otherwise, wild tortoises are not to be touched.
Why don't I see wildlife in the desert?
Much of the wildlife in Southern Nevada is nocturnal, and comes out only at night.  Furthermore, many of the reptiles of the desert spend most of their lives in underground burrows.  Reptiles seek shelter to escape the scorching heat of summer in the Mojave Desert.  Therefore, you may see desert temperatures drastically decline in October and November each year.  Desert tortoises, being reptiles, experience declining body temperatures during this time and they go into brumation (the reptilian form of hibernation).  This period of sleep usually lasts about 4-6 months and is followed by the tortoise coming out of brumation in the spring.
Who is Mojave Max?
Mojave Max is a real desert tortoise.  He lives in the desert tortoise habitat at The Springs Preserve.  In the spring of 2000, the first Mojave Max contest was held.  Students in the Las Vegas Valley were encouraged to estimate the date and time Mojave Max would first exit his burrow after brumation.  This successful event had thousands of students in the Valley researching Mojave desert temperatures and desert tortoise habits.  This event is significant because it draws attention to the seasons of the Mojave Desert and the responses of desert wildlife.  Many plants and animals have a dormant period each year that is brought on by declining desert temperatures.  Plants and animals of the Mojave Desert must adapt to changing temperatures and erratic rainfall to survive.  More information on the Mojave Max Emergence Contest is available at

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