What to do when Someone Takes a Tortoise from the Desert
Some of us know people who have taken a tortoise from the desert. Depending upon which state you are in, if the tortoise was collected prior to prohibitions against collecting, or if it is the offspring of legally obtained captives, then the owner may possess it (with a special permit in California and Utah). In Nevada, progeny hatched in captivity are legal to keep or give to another resident of Nevada without a permit. If, however, the collector has recently taken the tortoise from the desert, state and Federal laws have been violated and the collector is liable for prosecution. Table 2 contains the telephone numbers and addresses of state and Federal wildlife law enforcement agencies.
If the tortoise was collected within the last few days and if it was held in isolation (e.g., in a cardboard box, no other captive tortoises or turtles present, and not placed in a yard or with any pets), then experts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or state wildlife agency may decide that the tortoise can be returned to the location from which it was taken. You should not take the responsibility for making such a decision.
Such a determination must be made with care due to the potential to transmit the highly infectious Upper Respiratory Tract Disease and other infectious diseases. The decision on whether to return a wild tortoise to its home can only be made by designated tortoise experts. Biological expertise is essential. Tortoise experts in your area should be contacted at one of the addresses in Table 3. The Federal government or any of the states may alter their official position on this topic as more information becomes available.
If a wild tortoise has been held in captivity for more than a few days, or in the presence of another turtle or tortoise, then it must not be returned to the wild for any reason. A wild tortoise held in captivity for even a few hours is likely to have been exposed to contagious diseases. Examples of exposure include contact with tortoises or turtles carrying diseases with no outward sign of illness, or contact with yards and pens that have housed sick tortoises, even years ago.
REMEMBER: Some diseases are highly infectious and fatal. Don't take a chance on exposing wild populations.
Federal and State Wildlife Law Enforcement Addresses and Phone Numbers
STATE WILDLIFE AGENCY
US FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE