Desert tortoises are more likely to be active during the monsoon season, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department wants people to know what to do if they spot one.
“Leave it alone,” said Lynda Lambert, Game and Fish public information officer. “Observe from a distance. Take pictures, but don’t touch it.”
It’s illegal in Arizona to remove a tortoise from its habitat. Studies have shown tortoises live their entire lives within 1 mile of where they were hatched, so relocating them can cause them to struggle finding shelter and food and they will likely die.
For the same reason, people shouldn’t release a captive tortoise into the wild. Captive tortoises will struggle to find the right food and shelter in the wild. They can also carry a bacteria that will spread to wild populations and put them at risk.
People should also keep dogs away from tortoises both captive and in the wild. Even a gentle dog can pose a serious threat to a tortoise.
The monsoon season causes tortoises and snakes to be more active. The cooler temperatures and precipitation bring out a lot of insects and critters and make it easier for them to forage, Lambert said.
While tortoises are not rare in the wild, they are rarely seen. They’re excellent at camouflage, Lambert said.
“People who’ve been hiking miles and miles in a remote area rarely even see them,” she said. “There’s not a good chance that you would go out and see one. They’re just excellent at camouflaging and staying in their burrows during times of day when you’re most likely to be out.”
The most likely time someone might spot a tortoise is when it’s trying to cross the road, Lambert said. If someone does see a tortoise crossing the street, they should pick it up gently, keep it low and parallel to the ground and move it to the other side, placing it back down in the direction it was heading. Tortoises store a great amount of liquid in their bladders, so any quick movements might cause them to empty their bladder and become dehydrated. It’s important to move slowly and carefully.
If you encounter a desert tortoise, Game and Fish biologists want to know. Please email the details, and a photo if you can take one without handling the tortoise, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The department has a tortoise adoption program for Arizona residents. In the past, tortoises were captured and bred and now there are more captive tortoises than there are homes for them. Lambert said anyone interested in becoming a caretaker for a desert tortoise can visit the Game and Fish website at azgfd.gov/tortoise.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or email@example.com.