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Your chance to adopt a desert tortoise

Nearly a dozen tortoises need good homes in Utah.

Wouldn't it be fun to have a pet that makes your neighbors "ooh" and "ahh"? As long as you're willing to give up part of your backyard, you can. Division of Wildlife Resources biologists are putting nearly a dozen desert tortoises up for adoption.

Desert tortoise
An adopted desert tortoise eats grass in its backyard home.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Southerland

Listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species list, most of the tortoises were found after people removed them from their native homes. (Once a wild tortoise is taken from the wild, it can't be released. Releasing it could introduce diseases into Utah's wild tortoise population.)

Even though desert tortoises require some room, Jason Jones says caring for one is easier than caring for other pets. "They won't bark or chase your neighbor's cat," says Jones, a DWR native aquatic species biologist. "And five months out of the year, they'll be in hibernation in your house."

To adopt a desert tortoise, you need a fenced area that's at least 15 feet by 10 feet. "Tortoises also need burrows, so you'll have to build some," Jones says. "You'll also need to plant dandelions, clover and other plants the tortoise can eat."

Even though it takes work to provide a tortoise with a place to live, Jones says it's worth it. "Desert tortoises are fun pets," he says. "They're unique too. How many people can say they have a 'desert dinosaur' living in their backyard?"

Jones says being allowed to care for a federally protected species is also a rare occurrence and a privilege.

More information about adopting a desert tortoise in Utah is available in the Desert Tortoise Adoption booklet. The free booklet is available for download online.

If you have questions, please call Jones at (801) 538-4830.

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