Laws Regarding Wild and Captive Tortoises are Different
Desert tortoises must not be taken from the desert. Although laws differ slightly in the four states (Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah) where tortoises occur, tortoises cannot be removed from the wild without Federal and/or State permits (see a Summary of Federal and State Laws or Regulations and Penalties). The Mojave desert tortoise is Federally-listed as a threatened species in the part of its geographic range occurring north and west of the Colorado River. Specifically, this definition includes tortoises living in the deserts of California, Nevada, Utah, and the portion of the desert that occurs north of the Grand Canyon - Colorado River in Arizona.
In Arizona, California, and Nevada, legally-obtained captive tortoises and their progeny can continue to be kept as pets. In Utah, a person may possess a captive tortoise with a certificate of registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, under Rule 657-3-19, for scientific or educational use, if, in the opinion of the Division, the scientific or educational use is beneficial to wildlife or significantly benefits the general public without material detriment to wildlife. The Division rarely grants certificates of registration for tortoises to persons living in Washington or Kane counties.
Pursuant to R12-4-407.1, desert tortoises legally held prior to January 1, 1988, may be possessed, transported, or propagated. Possession limit is one desert tortoise per person. Progeny of lawfully held desert tortoises may, for twenty-four months from date of hatching, be held in captivity in excess of the stated limit. Before or upon reaching twenty-four months of age, such progeny must be disposed of by gift to another person or as directed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Captive tortoises and their progeny can continue to be kept as pets. In 1972 and 1973 the California Fish and Game Commission passed special laws to permit people who had desert tortoises in their possession prior to March 1973 to keep those captives. In doing so, the Commission recognized that many people had held tortoises in captivity for decades or had offspring of captive tortoises. The Federal Endangered Species Act does not conflict with the California program for captives. Under the Act, captive tortoises and their progeny are to be maintained under normal husbandry practices. However, the current position of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is that it is illegal to breed captive tortoises.
Individuals with a legal captive must have the tortoise registered with the California Game and Fish Department. The progeny of legally acquired captives must also be registered. The Department issues stickers similar to car license plates stickers for each captive tortoise. There is no charge for registration. To obtain a registration form, contact Adoption Chairs at the California Turtle and Tortoise Club. The Club has authorized agents who can issue permits and tags.
Under the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Code, captive tortoises cannot be transferred from one person or household to another without the permission of the Department. To obtain permission to transfer guardianship of a captive, contact Adoption Chairs at the California Turtle and Tortoise Club. The Adoption Chairs will assist you.
Tortoise legally held prior to August 4, 1989, may continue to be held in captivity without a license or permit. Written permission must be obtained from the Division of Wildlife prior to transporting a desert tortoise across statelines. You must be a resident of Nevada to adopt a tortoise through the adoption programs. For information on adopting a tortoise or finding a home for an unwanted desert tortoise in Southern Nevada call (702) 383-TORT or the Tortoise Group Hotline (702) 739-7113... call the Tortoise Adoption Hotline at (775) 972-8532.
Under Rule 657-3-19 a person may possess a captive tortoise with a certificate of registration from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for scientific or educational use, if, in the opinion of the Division, the scientific or educational use is beneficial to wildlife or significantly benefits the general public without material detriment to wildlife. The Division rarely grants certificates of registration for tortoises to persons living in Washington or Kane counties.