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Prescott Valley Tribune | Prescott Valley, Arizona

home : features : features February 5, 2016

8/20/2014 8:52:00 AM
Adopt a tortoise program now available locally
Courtesy Photo
People in Prescott Valley now can adopt desert tortoises like this one.
Courtesy Photo
People in Prescott Valley now can adopt desert tortoises like this one.
Tortoise factoids
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has a wealth of information about how to take care of tortoises on its website at azgfd.gov/tortoise.

Following are a few factoids:

• Arizona has two native desert tortoise species, the Sonoran and Mohave. The Mohave is listed as threatened.

• Captive tortoises can live as long as a century.

• Captive tortoises need a secure enclosure with at least one shelter. Game and Fish recommends at least an 18'x18' area including a patch of grass and a shelter from rain and sun.

• Tortoises are solitary animals and are likely to spend most of their time in their shelters/burrows. They can be constructed from simple items such as cinder blocks and trash cans.

Joanna Dodder Nellans
Special to the Tribune

Did you know a pet exists that doesn't bark, doesn't bite, lives longer than you, and can be left alone for months at a time while it hibernates?

Well you're now in luck because the Arizona Game and Fish Department is allowing people in the Prescott region to adopt tortoises for the first time.

"Tortoises make good pets for a variety of reasons," said Tyler Coleman, non-game wildlife biologist at the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Region 3 office in Kingman. "They are relatively low maintenance. They are good with children and all people. They have individual personalities that make them interesting to watch and interact with.

"Also, they tend to be cheaper than a cat or dog."

The agency is expanding adoptions to the Prescott region because too many people are allowing their pet tortoises to breed, something the agency highly discourages.

In one case, someone called Game and Fish's Kingman office to say he could no longer care for his tortoises and he turned out to have 90, related Zen Mocarski, information and education officer for the Kingman office of Game and Fish.

Ten years ago, the Kingman office had a waiting list for tortoises. It now has about 300 tortoises up for adoption. Prescott is the first area outside their natural habitat that can adopt tortoises because winters are relatively mild here, Coleman said.

People can apply online via azgfd.gov/tortoise, call the Kingman office at 928-692-7700, or get an application at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott by calling 778-4242 or stopping by.

The sanctuary, home to four tortoises, is partnering in the adoption effort.

"They're actually pretty easy and fun for pets," Sanctuary Director Pam McLaren related.

The zoo tortoises have different personalities, she said. Some follow people around while others like to just hang out. During the winter, the sanctuary tortoises hibernate indoors in Rubbermaid tubs large enough to allow the tortoises to turn around.

During the rest of the year, the tortoises eat only about three times a week, she said. They eat a wide variety of green vegetables and grasses. Wild tortoises eat the leaves, stems and flowers of many desert plants.

They can go a year without water because they get most of their water from plants and can store it in their bladders.

People shouldn't pick up wild tortoises because they can lose all that water and die. If one's in harm's way such as on a road, gently lift it just about the ground and move it off the road in the direction it was headed.

Once someone extensively handles a tortoise, it's illegal to return it to the wild because it could kill off entire populations of wild tortoises through Upper Respiratory Tract Disease.

If someone allows a tortoise to produce hatchlings, the state requires people to either give the hatchlings away or turn them over to a state-sanctioned adoption facility with 2 years. State officials don't allow people to take the desert tortoises out of Arizona.

Game and Fish officials are trying to reduce the captive overpopulation problem by telling households they can adopt one tortoise per person as long as they are all males or females. People can't distinguish between males and females until they are about six inches long.

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