Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Desert Tortoises (Gopherus spp.) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus spp.)


Managed care breeding and management

  • Breeding in managed care is discouraged out of concern for spread of disease from captive tortoises
  • Management practices should be "compatible with the evolutionary history of gene flow" in widely separated desert tortoise populations (Edwards et al 2004)
    • Human-made barriers now block tortoise movements
    • Translocations to small isolated populations from nearby populations may aid in long term survival
    • Potential hazards of translocations currently being assessed; may increase spread of disease, survival of translocated tortoises needs further study
  • Desert tortoises from a managed care source can be kept in Arizona, but only one tortoise per family.
  • In Nevada, desert tortoises can be kept if were already in managed care prior to listing; can't buy, sell, or give them away.
  • Sonoran Desert Museum established a Tortoise Adoption Program (sanctioned by AZ Game & Fish Department)
    Desert tortoises can be kept in California after obtaining a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
  • Desert tortoises are hardy and are often given harmful care because the effects are not immediately obvious
  • Conditions necessary for healthy desert tortoises:
    • Outdoor living
    • Diet as close to that in the wild as possible (be wary of advice in websites and popular literature)
    • Living in the species natural geographical range
    • A well-designed and secure habitat with sun and shade, a burrow, walls to prevent climbing out
    • Protection from injury and extremes of climate
    • Protection from ants, dogs, other turtle species, predatory birds, rodents, house cats
  • Dietary items often offered but which should be avoided:
    • Apples, avocado, bananas, cat and dog food, corn, dairy products, iceberg lettuce, melons, peaches, primate biscuits
    • Any commercial diets marketed for turtles (they are tortoises, with different dietary requirements than that of other turtles)
  • Forages can include:
    • Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) 
    • Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)
    • Clover (Trifolium spp.)
    • Dichondra (Dichondra sp.)
    • Ryegrass (Lolium spp)
    • Grape and mulberry leaves
  • Tortoises need to graze freely in foraging areas

Page Citations

Edwards et al. (2004)
Jarchow et al. (2002)

SDZWA Library Links