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Desert tortoise

A desert tortoise in its native habitat.

Have you been wanting a desert tortoise? Here is your chance. While cruising the web, I chanced across the Tortoise Group website (tortoisegroup.org). The group handles tortoise adoptions in Nevada. The website mentioned keeping tortoises in Northern Nevada, which I assumed meant Reno, surely not Elko.

So I called Kym McDonough, the adoption coordinator in Northern Nevada. I asked her if the group actually allows adoptions in the Elko area. She enthusiastically replied “absolutely.”

“What about our winters? We had -15 degrees this winter,” I asked. Kym replied she is sure there are desert tortoises in Elko, but did not have any names of owners.

Kym assured me tortoises can undergo brumation (like hibernation) in a box placed in the garage. She would be happy to assist in Elko area adoptions. It costs $75 and requires a yard consult, although this can be done through electronics. The adoption cost is waived if you join the Tortoise Group for $25 a year. At any one time, there are about 130 desert tortoises waiting on an adoption list.

“Wait a minute, in the garage?” I asked.

Kym keeps a tortoise in Reno. She placed some dirt in a cardboard box and then placed that box inside a larger box. She added crumpled newspaper as insulation between the two boxes. Each fall, she places a thermometer and her tortoise in the box. The thermometer shows a winter temperature remaining between 40 and 50 degrees, perfect for brumation.

“How do I know when it is time to place the tortoise in the box?” I asked.

She said the tortoise would tell me. It would become sluggish and stop eating, usually in October or November.

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“OK, when would I remove it from the box?”

She recommends checking on a brumating tortoise periodically and once a week in mid-May. I would find its legs extending from the shell and the eyes may be half-open. Further evidence would be scratching noises coming from the box.

Tortoises need an escape-proof, fenced yard but cats and dogs are fine with beginning supervision as they meet the tortoise. The group encourages tortoises be fed a special tortoise feed. They enjoy a burrow made of cement blocks, a sheet of plywood and dirt. The group website shows how to build one.

Some tortoise owners worry about their tortoise being taken away from them. Kym said it will not happen. Having a tortoise is legal if you acquired it before August 4, 1989 or adopted it through the Tortoise Group. You are a custodian and do not “own” the captive desert tortoise. If someone gives you a tortoise, you simply need to register it on the Tortoise Group website. As of May 1, 2013, NEW custodians can only have one tortoise to avoid breeding. If you got a pair before that date, you can keep them.

So there you go, you can adopt a desert tortoise. Just remember they could outlive you, since they can live 80-100 years. Go to the group’s website for details on care and adoption. If you have a tortoise in the Elko area, let me know at hyslop.nv@gmail.com.

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