No Tortoise Left Behind


Since 1990, Las Vegas’ Desert Tortoise Conservation Center has taken in an estimated 20,000 tortoises, most of them unwanted pets. This January, in an attempt to deal with funding shortfalls, the center discontinued its pick-up program. Now another blow is on its way: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—which runs the center with the San Diego Zoo and the Bureau of Land Management—expects budget problems to force the conservation center to close altogether in fall 2014, discontinuing both its research and its relocation efforts for the threatened species.

“A big challenge is stemming the flow of tortoises still coming in,” says Ted Koch, Nevada’s USFWS supervisor. “Within the next one to two months, no more tortoises can go into the center.”

Meanwhile, the center is moving healthy tortoises back to the Mojave Desert, and has reached out to the Tortoise Group and the Animal Foundation to expand the adoption pace of tortoises not fit to return to the wild. The center itself will not run an adoption program, Koch says, as the money it receives is earmarked only for managing the recovery of an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The Tortoise Group, a local nonprofit, seeks to intercept unwanted tortoises before they end up at the center. The organization has started an adoption push, says chairwoman Kathy Utiger, sending out postcards and holding informational talks, like one in July in Boulder City that attracted 70 people.

“In just looking at a tortoise, people don’t think they’re too exciting,” Utiger says. “But as a pet, they are just wonderful.”