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A Keystone Species

the mojave desert tortoise 

The captive care of Mojave Desert Tortoises is a topic full of debate. Everybody has certain methods that work for them, sometimes those methods work for everybody. Sometimes they don’t. Desert Tortoises are kept in a large spectrum of environments all over the state of California alone! You must adapt your care to fit your environment at home!


We would like to give you a long write up of the methods that have worked for us over the past 25 years of captive desert tortoise husbandry, but that information is already all over the place! Our goal is to make that info easily accessible to anybody, meaning our goal is to educate and inform, not to prove how much we know by using huge words, dead languages and complex scientific ideas.

Throughout this page you will find links to reliable resources that we have come to rely on as well. Though we are always here to answer your tortoise care related questions via email. We want you to understand that multiple sources of information are much better than just relying on one (even if that one is pretty awesome).

Adult tortoises are by far the most commonly kept age group of desert tortoises, they often wander into peoples yards in search of water or grass to nibble on. People often mistake this behavior with a cry for help on the tortoises behalf. “It was in our yard so we figured it was lost” is the response we encounter most often on tortoise calls. Mostly by this time the tortoise has already been picked up with bare hands and put into a box in the garage. This now means the tortoise cannot ever go back to the desert. The risk for disease transmission is just too high. URTD (Upper Respiratory Tract Disease) is the most common illness for captive tortoises and is essentially their version of COVID-19. This virus attacks the respiratory system of the tortoise, causing the nostrils (nares) of the tortoise to swell and give them a permanent runny nose. This causes difficulty with breathing, drinking, and finding food. It also affects the tortoises activity level, causing them to be lethargic during times of the year that they should be active.


There is no cure for URTD, and while symptoms can be treated in captive tortoises, wild tortoises do not have such a luxury. Releasing pet tortoises with URTD can result in captive populations contracting the virus and spreading it to healthy wild tortoises. If you have a pet tortoise that you no longer want or cannot care for, please contact the California Turtle & Tortoise Club here: 

 Adult Care.

Caring for an adult tortoise has its hurdles. You must first think about what is best for the animals, rather than what is best for your situation. If you own and live in a house with a large yard, you are probably a better suited candidate for adoption than a college student living in a one bedroom apartment with a balcony.

Adult Desert Tortoises need room. Think about how much space they have in the desert! These animals are not aquarium pets. A mature male tortoise can measure up to 16” in length and roam up to a mile a day during the most active seasons (Spring & Fall). This means that it is up to you to provide adequate space for your shelled friend.

An area of 25’ x 10’ is about the minimum


Please Adopt legally! It is a federal offense to remove a wild desert tortoise from the wild and can land you a $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Please check out the CTTC’s Website on adoption. Saving Slowpokes mission is to help you meet their requirements for adoption, so contact us and let us help you get closer to adopting your tortoise!


The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is considered a "keystone species" meaning that it is vital to a healthy ecosystem. Like the keystone in an arch if it is removed, the arch will crumble, just like the desert ecosystem if the tortoise disappears.


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