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Don't steal tortoises from Utah deserts, officials warn

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Posted at 3:33 PM, Nov 04, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — The may look cute, but Utah wildlife officials are reminding people to leave tortoises in the desert where they belong.

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According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, its officers have seen a rise in visitors taking tortoises from their natural habitat. There have been nine tortoise-related cases so far in 2021.

Most of the thefts occurred over the summer in Washington County, while some took place in central Utah.

Desert tortoises are protected by federal and state laws, which makes it illegal to remove them from the wild.

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“Removing tortoises from the wild can harm wild populations by reducing their ability to reproduce and sustain themselves on the landscape,” said wildlife biologist Ann McLuckie . “Tortoises that are removed from the wild cannot be released back into the wild, due to a risk of introducing diseases, especially if they’ve been kept in a home with other animals. They are susceptible to a density-dependent disease called upper respiratory tract disease, which presents like pneumonia.”

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Officials also say it is also illegal to release captive tortoises back into the wild, or bring them into Utah with proper certification.

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A desert tortoise in its native habitat in Washington County. Photo by Jason Jones, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“Unfortunately, it is fairly common that we have to seize tortoises either brought into the state illegally or that are illegally removed from the wild,” DWR Lt. Paul Washburn said. “All the tortoises from these recent cases were seized and will be placed into our tortoise adoption program.”