Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

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All desert tortoises in Nevada are considered wildlife (NRS 501.097) and belong to the people of 
Nevada (NRS 501.100). Those who legally possess a desert tortoise are considered custodians, not 
owners, of the desert tortoise(s) in captivity. 

The scientific name for desert tortoises is (Gopherus agassizii) and is classified as reptile with a life span 
of 50-80 years but 15 to 20 years to reach sexual maturity. It has a Game Status of Non-Game, with the 
State Conservation status of Priority Species and Threatened, and a Federal Conservation status of 

The Mojave population of desert tortoise include north and west of the Colorado River in Arizona, Utah 
and Nevada and California, it is listed as threatened species pursuant to the provisions of the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The listing was based on threats to the contined existence of the 
species, including loss of habitat to urban development and agriculture, potential degradation of habitat 
by grazing and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, illegal collection, spread of an upper respiratory tract 
disease, excessive predation of juvenile tortoises by common raven. Successful predation on adults is 
rare but these species have been known to prey on adult tortoise: hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, 
bobcats, eagles and feral dogs and other factors. 

The tortoise spends 95% of their time in burrows that they dig. The desert tortoise eat various herbs, 
grasses, cacti and wildflowers and the Mojave population of tortoise lives in variety of habitats from 
sandy flats to rocky foothills, including alluvial fans, washes and canyons. Breeding occurs in March and 
April and egg laying occurs from May to July. Nests are almost always located at the entrance of the 
burrows. Clutches can be 1 to 14 eggs and a mature female may lay up to 3 clutches annually. The eggs 
are covered with soil and hatch after 80 to 130 days, typically in August and September. 

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 and makes it illegal to harass, collect, or harm tortoises
and provides for penalties of up to $50,000 in fines and one year in prison for each count. Disturbing a
desert tortoise by picking it up may cause it to void its bladder, causing invaluable water loss to an 
individual trying to survive in the dry and harsh Mojave Desert. It is illegal to release a pet desert 
tortoises into the wild. Pet tortoises pose a significant risk of disease transmission to wild tortoises.
The MSHCP required Clark County to implement conservation measures for desert tortoise conservation
including retiring certain grazing allotments on public lands in desert tortoise critical habitat at Gold
Bute, Nevada and required that those lands be managed for conservation in the future. The Clark
County MSHCP provides incidental take coverage for 78 species of plants and animals and their habitats,
including the desert tortoise. The Desert Conservation Program (DCP) is the division of the Clark County,
Nevada, Department of Environment and Sustainability (DES) that administers the MSHCP on behalf of
permitees. The DCP coordinates with other programs and agencies with jurisdiction and expertise in
mitigation, and species and habitat conservation. The DCP coordinates with the other Implementing
Agreement agencies to monitor activities that potentially impact the MSHCP mitigation reserve system
areas. These activities can have positive, neutral, and/or negative impacts on these areas, thereby
influencing the apparent effectiveness of the mitigation strategy outlined in the MSHCP.

Tortoise Group non-profit since 1982, the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program is limited to residents of
Nevada, with the following requirements: Custodians must be adults and residents of Nevada, caring for
a tortoise is a long-term commitment; they can live to be 80-100 years old. If you already have a desert 
tortoise you can register the tortoise and be the legal custodian of that tortoise. If you would like 
Tortoise Group to advise you on preparing or improving your habitat, there is a consulting fee of $10 for
members and $20 for nonmembers. The Tortoise Group no longer accepts pet tortoises from the
public, if you found a desert tortoise and don’t know what to do with it, please visit their rehoming
site or the lost and found site. Tortoise Group will try to honor rehoming requests from current Tortoise Group members, there are over 150,000 pet desert tortoises in Clark County alone, over 3000 pets a year are displaced. Tortoise Group (702) 739-7113.

A tortoise is legally held in captivity if: the tortoise was acquired before August 4, 1989. Their progeny
considered legally held or the tortoise was adopted officially through the Tortoise Group Adoption
Program approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Information obtained from the following websites: +

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