Desert Tortoise (Resized)
Mojave Desert Tortoise. Photographed in the Mojave Desert by
Tigerhawkvok (CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
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Feb. 4, 2020
Last updated Oct. 7, 2022
Desert Tortoise Care Resources Desert Tortoise Care Resources Desert Tortoise Care Resources

All three desert tortoise species are now protected: the MOJAVE DESERT TORTOISE, the SONORAN DESERT TORTOISE and the SINALOAN DESERT TORTOISE. As of 2018, the Mojave species in particular was upgraded to "critically endangered" status by the Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group in their book Turtles in Trouble (see page 62). In 2021, the IUCN updated their website, making this assessment official. The Sinaloan desert tortoise (aka the Sinaloan thornscrub tortoise) was assigned the conservation status of "vulnerable" to extinction by the IUCN in 2018, shortly after being identified as its own species. Finally, the Sonoran desert tortoise is in an odd sort of limbo. Although agencies of the federal government continue to wrangle with conservation organizations such that the Sonoran species still receives no federal protection, they have been under state-level protection in Arizona since 1988.

As a result of all legislation, be it at the federal or state level, it's illegal to take any species of desert tortoise from the wild. They are so long-lived, however, that many of the ones taken from the wild decades ago have outlived their keepers and need new homes. Additionally, those captive oldsters will often have bred in captivity such that a new generation of younger captive DTs now need homes as well. The reasons most of these captives cannot be returned to the wild are complex and numerous but David Danelski in his Press-Enterprise article does a good job of explaining this odd situation. Long story short, if you live in one of the desert tortoise's native states (Arizona, California, Nevada or Utah) and if you have a yard that you wouldn't mind converting into a desert tortoise habitat, you can adopt one. Here are the official entities that legally adopt out desert tortoises:

One of the most all-inclusive desert tortoise care pages on-line used to be the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Desert Tortoise adoption pages. It’s still pretty decent so I’m linking to it here. Additionally, though, I’m including this link to the archived older version which includes much more but isn't configured for smaller screens. Current | Old Version

Captive DT Diet | Native DT Food Plants

Burrow Construction
Above Ground Above Ground | Underground Underground

Additional Resources

Other sources I've found to be useful are the Desert Tortoises: Adoption and Care downloadable PDF booklet by The Tortoise Group as well as the Desert Tortoise section of The Tortoise Group's own website. Additionally, the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program pages on the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Website have proven very helpful.

One final DT caresheet that is highly recommended is Don's Desert Tortoises, an entire website on Desert Tortoise Captive care that, sadly, only exists today within the web library of the Internet Archive. Still, preserved for all time by the library (albeit with numerous of the links broken), this site includes a wealth of information on every aspect of DT husbandly plus photos of proper habitat for hatchlings and grown tortoises.

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