Pet Desert Tortoise Information
Under authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is legal to have a pet desert tortoise as long as you didn't take it from the wild. All desert tortoises in Nevada, whether in captivity or not, are considered wildlife and therefore belong to the people of the State of Nevada. Those who legally possess a desert tortoise are considered custodians, rather than owners, of a desert tortoise. Citizens can serve as custodians of desert tortoises if the desert tortoise was acquired before August 4th, 1989 or adopted through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved adoption 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.
We need your help!
Currently there are over 1,000 pet desert tortoises per year that are being surrendered in Clark County alone. Due to the possibility of the spread of disease, these animals cannot be put back into the wild.
Issues with pet desert tortoises are taking valuable conservation resources away from efforts to recover desert tortoises in the wild. We need animal care professionals and citizens who have desert tortoises as pets to recognize, appreciate and implement the following actions:
- Never release a pet desert tortoise, or other species of tortoise or turtle, to the wild - pet tortoises may not be genetically compatible with the wild population and they will likely spread disease, even if they appear healthy. Since the closure of the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in 2014, Clark County no longer has a shelter location for unwanted pet desert tortoises. If you have a pet desert tortoise that you can no longer care for, please do your best to find someone who is willing to take the tortoise. The Tortoise Group may be able to assist you with finding a new caretaker for the desert tortoise.
- Always keep male and female tortoises separate to avoid propagation and inbreeding - it is estimated that there are thousands of pet desert tortoises in Clark County, Nevada and it has become increasingly difficult to find suitable caretakers for unwanted pet tortoises and the progeny of pet tortoises. We must reduce this number by putting a stop to backyard breeding. Some veterinary clinics are now offering desert tortoise sterilization services to help reduce the number of unwanted pet tortoises. For a list of veterinary clinics that offer desert tortoise sterilization services, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 702-515-5230.
- Ensure proper enclosures for pet tortoises - unsecure backyards may allow tortoises to escape and become a stray, nuisance animal. The Tortoise Group can evaluate yards for security.
- Ensure tortoises have an outdoor habitat with an insulated burrow, healthy food plants, access to water and above-ground shade. Tortoises have particular nutritional needs and many of the tortoises surrendered to the Pickup Service are malnourished. The Tortoise Group can provide food recommendations.
If you would like to legally adopt a pet desert tortoise, please visit www.tortoisegroup.org for more information. And, if you currently have a pet desert tortoise, please consider spay/neuter, or at the very least separating mating pairs to avoid unintentional backyard breeding.
What do I do if I find a desert tortoise in an urban 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!
Please see the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Pet Desert Tortoise Frequently Asked Questions for more information on pet desert tortoises.
The Tortoise Group provides up to date information (i.e., FAQs, tips, videos) on adopting tortoises in Southern Nevada. If you are a Nevada resident and interested in caring for a captive tortoise, please contact the Tortoise Group today!