WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Looking for a unique pet? How about a desert tortoise?
Typically owning one is illegal under the Endangered Species Act, but the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is adopting close to 40 tortoises to Utah families.
The tortoises have been in captivity for various reasons, either turned in by residents, sick with disease or have an undetermined origin. As such, they aren’t allowed back out in the wild.
“We don’t want captive animals to go into native populations,” said Ann McLuckie, DWR Desert Tortoise Biologist. “They could spread disease, they might have the upper respiratory track disease, which is a disease that can basically kill an animal over the long term.”
McLuckie said when tortoises spend a long time in captivity they lose their ability to cope in the extreme desert conditions. That’s why potential foster parents must live outside Washington, Iron or Kane Counties.
DWR officials say they can’t risk those tortoises getting back into the wild.
Biologists estimate there are about 2,000 desert tortoises living in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. They’re listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Even though DWR officials say they would make good house pets, if you see one out here in the wild, it’s important to leave them where they are.
“They’re tough, they’re resilient in the fact that they can live in this desert,” said Bob Sandberg, Director of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. “But yet they are sensitive because they need to have everything work in sync and work properly to be able to make it.”
For more information on adopting a desert tortoise, contact the Utah DWR at 801-538-4746. A pamphlet on the tortoise adoption program can be downloaded here: http://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/dt_adopt.pdf.