Frequently asked questions

Why shouldn’t wild tortoises be removed from the desert?


It is against the law to collect a wild tortoise without a permit. Poaching tortoises from the wild is a major factor in their population decline.




Why can't I pet a desert tortoise or hold one for a photo?


It is illegal to handle desert tortoises. Wild tortoises tend to urinate when picked up because they are frightened. The tortoise has stored water for use over many months. When you pick up, touch, or harass a tortoise this water can easily be lost and the tortoise may eventually die of dehydration before the next rain. So, think twice about moving a tortoise unless it is in immediate danger from vehicles.




Can I help a desert tortoise cross the road?


Tortoises often cross roads through the undeveloped desert. Tortoises seem to follow the old adage “not all who wander are lost.” They know where they’re going. There is no need to “rescue” them unless they are in danger from heavy or fast traffic. If it is safe for you to stop, approach the tortoise from the front, pick it up, hold it level and move it several yards beyond the side of the road or inside any fencing in the direction the tortoise was heading.




What If Someone You Know Removed a Tortoise?


If someone you know has recently removed a tortoise from an undeveloped desert or a road through undeveloped desert in Washington County, the first step is to call the UDWR Washington County Field Office (435-879-8694) or Salt Lake Office (801-538-4746). DO NOT release the tortoise or keep it for personal use. The tortoise must be turned over to the UDWR. It's the law. Keep the tortoise indoors until picked up. Put it in a box with solid sides and a loose lid to allow for proper ventilation and so that it cannot see out. The box should be tall enough that the tortoise cannot climb out. Place the box in a quiet spot away from other pets (e.g., dogs, cats, ferrets, other tortoises) so as not to increase the stress associated with captivity. Check on the tortoise with frequency until the UDWR picks up the tortoise.




What If I Find a Tortoise Wandering in a Developed Area in Utah?


If you are in Washington County, it may be a wild tortoise displaced from a development site or it may be an escaped pet. If you find a tortoise in Utah wandering outside of Washington County, it is more likely an escaped pet. Either way, DO NOT release the tortoise into the desert. DO NOT keep it for yourself or give it away. The tortoise must be turned over to the UDWR. It's the law! The first step is to call the UDWR Washington County Field Office (435-879-8694) or Salt Lake Office (801-538-4746). Keep the tortoise indoors until picked up. Put it in a box with solid sides and a loose lid to allow for proper ventilation and so that it cannot see out. The box should be tall enough that the tortoise cannot climb out. Place the box in a quiet spot away from other pets (e.g., dogs, cats, ferrets, other tortoises) so as not to increase the stress associated with captivity. Check on the tortoise with frequency until the UDWR picks up the tortoise. Because the UDWR keeps permanent records of adopted tortoises, we can locate the owner. If the owner does not claim the tortoise and it passes the health test, you may be able to adopt it after your yard has been prepared and you have filled out the proper documents. The Desert Tortoise Adoption page on thise website can guide you in preparing for and adopting these tortoises.




Why Should Pet Tortoises Not Be Released in the Desert?


The unauthorized release of a tortoise into the wild is illegal because of the harm it may pose to both wild populations and the individual tortoise. Those that are released usually die slowly from starvation, dehydration, and the inability to acclimate quickly enough from conditions in captivity to conditions in the desert. It takes time for metabolic patterns and diets to change from what is readily available in captivity and a tortoise not be able to conserve enough water, have enough food stored, or be able to prepare a burrow in time to withstand various seasonal conditions or be prepared in time for any upcoming seasonal changes. Additionally, a released tortoise can pose a threat to other wild animals if it were to transmit unknown diseases or parasites to wild tortoise populations or other animals. For example, Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD) is common may go unnoticed in a captive tortoise that is well-cared-for with fewer stressers. But it is often fatal in wild tortoises. It has led to the decline of several wild desert tortoise populations. Another reason to not release pet or recently found tortoises is that they will compete with other, wild tortoises for limited resources. Decreasing and degrading habitats has led to the desert tortoise being listed as a threatened species. Human impacts such as development, mining, livestock grazing, and off-road vehicle usage have decreased the amount and quality of the tortoise’s natural habitat every year. Because the desert recovers very slowly, even from small disturbances, degradation accumulates and the habitat supports progressively fewer animals. Adding more competition to the population means less to go around for the newly released tortoise as well as those wild tortoises already in that habitat.




Can I keep a desert tortoise as a pet?


In Utah, you must obtain a Certificate of Registration from the UDWR to legally have a desert tortoise in your possession. You can do this by following the adoption procedures outlined on the Adopt A Desert Tortoise page. We, Great Basin Serpentarium, are working with UDWR on the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program and hope to find more desert tortoises in happy homes by helping you through the process of adopting a tortoise. First look over the Adoption page. If you still have unanswered questions or concerns, email us at tortoise@utah.gov.




I can no longer provide a home for my adopted desert tortoise. What can I do?


If you can no longer keep your tortoise, you must return it to Great Basin Serpentarium or UDWR. Contact us at tortoise@utah.gov.




Can I give my adopted tortoise to a family member or friend?


Friends or family may care for the tortoise after they have successfully completed the application process. More than one adult can be named on a COR; if you anticipate that you may want a family member to take over caring for your tortoise in the future, you can have them listed on the COR. Tortoises adopted from the UDWR are registered and tracked. Do not give your tortoise to another person. Contact us at tortoise@utah.gov to inform us if a friend or family member intends to apply to adopt a tortoise currently on your COR.




I am moving. Can I take my tortoise with me?


If you move within Utah, you may take your tortoise with you (unless you move to Washington, Kane, or Iron County). However, you must promptly notify us of your new address. If you move outside of Utah, you may take your tortoise with you provided it is legal to possess it in the state you are moving to. Some states may also have specific importation requirements for reptiles and wildlife. In that case, you will need to meed the requirements or your destination state on top of the requirements agreed to upon initial adoption of the tortoise. You will also need to contact us at tortoise@utah.gov to update the address listed on your COR. If your destination state does not permit possession of a desert tortoise, or you are not able to meet the importation requirements of that state, you must return the tortoise to Great Basin Serpentarium prior to moving. It will be re-entered into the UDWR Desert Tortoise Adoption Program and we will work on finding it a good home!




None of these FAQs answered my question.


If you still have a question(s), please contact us at tortoise@utah.gov. We are typically able to respond within a few business days. Please Note: We, Great Basin Serpentarium, have only recently taken over the responsibilities of the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program. We are still in the process of building the desert tortoise adoption website and transitioning everything over to our facility. If we take longer than expected to respond, don't hesitate to send a follow up message and we will reply as soon as we are able. Your patience is greatly appreciated during this time.




What if my tortoise dies


When this unfortunate event occurs, we respectfully request that you notify us right away at tortoise@utah.gov. Due to its federal status, we need to be informed when a tortoise is deceased along with any information regarding the circumstances of the situation.




My tortoise got hurt. What do I do?


You must seek veterinary help whenever your tortoise sustains an injury. Even superficial wounds should be treated because infection can be more of a threat than the initial injury. If you need help finding a qualified veterinarian, please contact us at tortoise@utah.gov and we will help you locate one.




I think my tortoise is sick. What do I do?


Some of the more common ailments of a captive desert tortoise are listed in the "Medical Problems" section of our Desert Tortoise Care page. If you suspect your tortoise is ill, seek veterinary care promptly for the best possible outcome.





Utah Desert Tortoise Adoption Program