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'We had a lot of illegal breeding cases': Why Arizona has so many tortoises needing to be adopted

Arizona Game and Fish has a record number of desert tortoises available for adoption. The agency says illegal breeding may have produced more tortoises needing homes

PHOENIX — They're small, personable, and sometimes even cuddly, and now nearly 300 Sonoran Desert tortoises are looking for a place to call home. 

"We're really struggling to find homes," said Tegan Wolf. "It happens every year, but this year we're really strapped."

Wolf is the Desert Tortoise Adoption Program coordinator for Arizona Game and Fish. She said the department currently has 288 tortoises that all need to be adopted.

"They only get to be 12 pounds," she said. "I think they're fun. They like chin scratches and head scratches. I get a lot of people who tell me they hang out during morning coffee. Like they'll go sit out and the tortoise will come up and hang out."

Each year, Arizona Game and Fish offer these reptiles up for adoption. This year, however, they have a record number of tortoises available. Wolf said they think it's because of several reasons including illegal breeding.

"The tortoises we bring in are mostly captive," she said. "They're all tortoises that have been bred in captivity or people have had them for years and can't care for them anymore. We had a lot of illegal breeding cases last year, people were breeding them in their yard."

Wolf also said fewer people are interested in adopting a tortoise. Last year, she said about 400 tortoises were taken in by the department but only 180 found a permanent home. She encourages anyone interested to do their research and learn more about this particular kind of reptile.

"It's a lifetime commitment," she said. "It's a big commitment and people are nervous about that. But they're not high maintenance, they're a lower maintenance animal and all you have to do is build them a burrow."

It is required the tortoise have an enclosed yard with a fence. They can dig, but Wolf said not very much so you can catch them before they get under anything.

Since they're not swimmers, it's asked people fence off their pool as well as any built-in firepits. The perfect candidate is anyone wanting to add a fun addition to the family.

"I would say somebody who just doesn't have the time to interact or train them," she said. "You don't do much training with a tortoise, but they still are personable and love people and love to be hand fed."

Speaking of food, tortoises have a pretty simple diet of grass and native plants. Wolf said Bermuda or Timothy Hay can be purchased for about $15. She said that will most likely last a year. 

There currently is no adoption fee for the tortoise. The application can be found online here.

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