Desert Tortoises Pose for Photos

Desert tortoise Homer with Seymore, one of his new family's cats.

The morning sun is barely peeking above the horizon, and magnificent purple and orange rays of light begin to cascade over the entire Mojave Desert. I’m trying to get in as many snapshots of adoptable tortoises before the intense desert heat sets in. Each photo is important, and I know I’m running out of time as a thin bead of sweat drips down my neck: it will only be minutes before tortoises begin to disappear beneath the earth into their cool burrows. Maybe the impressively large male tortoise I’m trying to get the perfect picture of would wait a second longer if he only knew these photos could change his life. “Photos of hope” I like to call them, displaying the unique and charming characteristics of adoptable tortoises that reside at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC), located in Las Vegas.

With approximately 1,000 tortoises coming to the DTCC through the Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline each year, it would be easy for them to blend together. However, there are quite a few tortoises that stand out in my mind. Homer, a petite adult male tortoise with a big personality, can be added to my lasting impression’s list. He recently found his forever home with his new custodian, Mandy, who had the opportunity to pick Homer from an adoption packet with tortoise photos and descriptions. Without actually seeing his cute face and curious demeanor in the photo, Mandy might have missed the opportunity to adopt Homer and make him part of her family.

Homer comes over to greet Oliver.

An otherwise healthy tortoise, Homer has a mild beak deformity, which does require supplements of soft food in his diet in case he is unable to eat some of the native forage provided in the yard. Mandy is finding out every day what a joy Homer is to have, and she was excited to send some fun photos of him with his new feline family members, Seymore and Oliver. Seymore especially likes to hang out just above the opening to Homer’s burrow and wait for him to come out and play when the weather is nice (see above). Mandy also tells me the whole family loves watching Homer go about his daily activities in the yard, and she has occasionally found him in the house after finding his way inside through an open back door!

Our main mission at the DTCC continues to be recovery of wild desert tortoise populations in the Mojave Desert. However, I’m hoping folks will see the benefit of adopting a tortoise that is not eligible for release but would make a great addition to a caring and loving home! Tortoises that are eligible for adoption are healthy and social animals that may have been someone’s pet or tortoises with mild physical abnormalities. Through Tortoise Group, the only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-approved adoption program in southern Nevada, conservation-minded custodians can provide loving homes for tortoises in need that currently reside at the DTCC while advocating on behalf of a threatened species, helping us to spread the word regarding desert tortoise conservation in southern Nevada.

Lori Scott is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Pet Desert Tortoise Hotline: Educational Outreach.

4 Responses to Desert Tortoises Pose for Photos

  1. What a lovely story! Thank you, Lori, for painting such a heartwarming picture of adopting a tortoise. I think I want one! 😎

  2. Great blog Lori. If only I lived there, I would definitely adopt one. With so many that need homes, either back in the desest or with a caring family, you are kept very busy.

    This program has been going on for a few years now that I am surprised that you are still getting that many tortoises. Are people just reluctant to give up their illegal pets or are they finding them in the desert and contacting you to come and get them?

    • Lee,
      You’re right, we are very busy! Of the 1,000+ desert tortoises that come through our doors each year, 98% are pets that people are giving up for various reasons or pets that have been found in residential areas. The most common thing people have told us about how they got their desert tortoise is that they received it from a friend or family member. That tells us that there are a lot of people giving away a lot of tortoises every year, usually not realizing that it’s against the law. When we ask people why they are giving up their pet desert tortoise, in many cases they tell us that the tortoise is too difficult to care for, or that it appears sick, and they don’t know what to do. Most of the time, these animals come to us with moderate to severe conditions related to being housed improperly, and they require months of rehabilitation. We hope that people will come to realize that a life in captivity is not the best choice for a desert tortoise that is healthy and releasable. If you ever move to Nevada, I hope we will be able to adopt one of our special un-releasable tortoises to you!

  3. Let me tell you that is one lucky tortoise!!!! My sister Mandy has been adopting animals from shelters for years and provides them with the best home possible. There is a special place in heaven waiting for her someday. The whole family is enjoying Homer. My neice sent him dandilions from Ohio for a treat. I think we would all have tortoises if we lived in Vegas.