Desert Tortoise As a Threatened Species
- The desert tortoise is listed as a threatened species, protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and Nevada Administrative Code (NAC 503.080), as well as the laws of other states in which the desert tortoise lives.
- Wild desert tortoise populations have declined due to diminished habitat and the direct loss of individual tortoises due to human activity such as poaching, collecting for pets, vehicular impact, and predator encroachment.
- It is against federal and state law to collect a wild desert tortoise without a permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nevada Department of Wildlife (NAC 503.093).
Desert Tortoise As a Pet
- All desert tortoises in Nevada, whether in captivity or not, are considered wildlife (NRS 501.097) and therefore belong to the people of the State of Nevada (NRS 501.100). Those who legally possess a desert tortoise are considered custodians, rather than owners, of the desert tortoise(s) in captivity.
- Citizens can serve as custodians of desert tortoises acquired through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved adoption program, operated by Tortoise Group in southern Nevada, or if the tortoise was collected or born in captivity before August 1989 (NAC 503.093), which is pre-Endangered Species Act listing.
- Pet desert tortoises (regardless of size, age, or origin) cannot be traded, sold, or given to others, nor can they be released to the wild (NRS 501.379, NAC 503.093 and NAC 503.135).
- Keeping a desert tortoise as a pet is a long-term commitment. Tortoises may live more than 60 years in captivity and must be kept outdoors to remain healthy. They require a secure yard to prevent escape with an insulated burrow, healthy food plants, access to water, and above-ground shade. Recognizing poor tortoise health is not always obvious, so regular check-ups with a specialized reptile veterinarian are also highly recommended.
- If you have a tortoise as a pet, ensure that it cannot escape from your property and become a stray, nuisance animal. Tortoise Group can evaluate your yard for security.
- Well-maintained pet desert tortoises, with reliable food and water, can reproduce much more reliably than their wild counterparts living in the harsh desert environment. However, breeding pet desert tortoises does not to promote the survival and recovery of the species in the wild. Indiscriminate propagation and release of pet tortoises can result in poor survival and harm wild populations through introduction of diseases or unsuited genetic strains.
- State and federal wildlife agencies prefer that you possess only one desert tortoise per household. If you have more than one desert tortoise, keep them separate and do not let them breed. This is Tortoise Group policy.
- Breeding of pet desert tortoises is producing a large number of unwanted animals and placing a burden on the agencies responsible to manage these animals.
- More than 1,000 unwanted or stray pet desert tortoises are surrendered or abandoned each year
- Spaying or neutering desert tortoises is new process now available. The best way to prevent breeding is to keep males and females separate. Tortoise Group can help you determine which of your tortoises are male and which are female.