These animals are never going back to the wild. So these animals are domesticated. Interact with them, touch them, handle them, and they will get to where they recognize you and they come to you. They can be a very unique companion animal that you would never even consider, given that it’s a cold-blooded reptile. —Krissy Wilson, DWR’s native aquatic species coordinator
SALT LAKE CITY — Plenty of people adopt a cat or a dog, but not many can say they own an endangered desert tortoise.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has 30 to 40 of the endangered animals that need homes because they can’t be returned to the wild.
“If you haven’t been around a desert tortoise, most people just wouldn’t quite believe that this cold-blooded animal exhibits such a unique, distinct personality,” said Krissy Wilson, DWR’s native aquatic species coordinator.
Even though desert tortoises require some room, Wilson says caring for one is easier than having other pets.
"They don't bark or chase cats," she said. "Also, they're in hibernation six months out of the year."
The DWR receives between 10 to 12 tortoises every year.
“There are tortoises that come in to our possession for one reason or another that cannot be put back into the wild,” Wilson said. “It might be a disease issue. It might be that they’ve been in captivity for so long that they might not know how to fend for themselves.”
The tortoises are being held at a facility in Washington County. Some of them have been there for almost 10 years. The tortoises occur naturally in far southwestern Utah.
Those considering adopting a tortoise need to know that it's a very long commitment. Tortoises in captivity can live up to 80 or 90 years.
“These animals will be animals that you will pass down in your family or you can, at some point, turn them back to the state,” Wilson said.
Anyone interested is asked to first review the DWR's Utah's Desert Tortoise Adoption Booklet.
“These animals are never going back to the wild. So these animals are domesticated,” Wilson said. “Interact with them, touch them, handle them, and they will get to where they recognize you and they come to you. They can be a very unique companion animal that you would never even consider, given that it’s a cold-blooded reptile."
The animal has unique needs, such as a fenced area that's at least 15 feet by 10 feet. Tortoises also need burrows, so owners need to build some. And owners will need to plant dandelions, clover and other plants the tortoise can eat.
Once someone decides to adopt a tortoise, a visit will be scheduled.
“We will do a yard inspection to make sure that your yard has what the tortoise needs as far as a burrow, sufficient water, sufficient cover from cold, as well as from heat, and that they can’t escape from your yard,” Wilson said.
Tortoises need UV radiation from sunlight for good shell growth. They should only be allowed outside when temperatures are above 50 degrees at night. If it gets colder than that, they need to be brought inside. By October, they typically begin their five to six months of hibernation, Wilson said.
There’s an $80 fee for adoption. Anyone who would like to adopt one of the tortoises, or has questions, can call Cory Noble, native aquatic species biologist with the DWR, at 801-538-4746.
“They are really cool animals,” Wilson said. "Many of these animals will get to the point where you walk outside and they come to you.”