Want a tortoise? Las Vegas group seeks adopters

A local animal rescue is begging for help after they say there is an overabundance of desert tortoises in the Las Vegas valley.

Gina Lazara will highlight one desert tortoise and Tortoise Group on later editions of 13 Action News. 

Terry Simmons adopted Honu the tortoise about a year ago. 

"All the neighbors now know that I'm the tortoise lady," she said. 

Simmons found out there was a desperate need for tortoise adopters in the valley and she knew her home would be a perfect fit. 

"If there's a need and you have the property, why not?" she said.

Honu is 80 years old. He was surrendered to the organization, Tortoise Group, after he outlived his previous owners. 

"We get a kick out of watching him walk. I mean this 80-year-old little thing, he's just funnier than heck," Simmons said. "We're just delighted."

And now Tortoise Group needs more people like Simmons to come forward. 

"The pet tortoise problem is not really under control right now," said Amanda Tolson of Tortoise Group.

Despite their drastic differences from rabbits as a whole, the one way they are similar is in their breeding habits. 

"You can go from two tortoises to 80 tortoises really fast," Tolson said.

She said there could be upwards of 100,000 desert tortoises in the valley right now. A few thousand of those were surrendered to Tortoise Group just last year. 

So if you have a yard and a love for animals, they're asking you to consider adopting. 

However, there are some things you should know before adopting a tortoise.

  • All desert tortoises are considered wildlife and belong to the people of Nevada. If you adopt one, you are considered a custodian, not an owner.
  • If you move out-of-state, tortoises cannot leave Nevada. 
  • Regulations allow for only one tortoise per habitat to prevent breeding. Tortoises tend to be happy with their own company. 
  • Tortoises must live outside. Its shell and organs will not properly develop living indoors. 
  • You should have about 600 square feet of yard for a tortoise with areas of shade and full sun. The yard must be fenced.
  • Tortoises often hide in their burrows for longer periods of time when it's really hot. Once weather cools, you can check on the tortoise. 
  • On a related note, as a reptile, tortoises brumate in the winter in their burrows. Brumation is a hibernation-like state. 
  • You should have space to build a burrow for the tortoise. Burrows can cost anywhere between $150 to $500 depending on preferences. 
  • Put in tortoise-friendly plants. The Tortoise Group has a full list here and includes plants to avoid. 
  • Tortoise Group also has a full list here of veterinarians that can treat tortoises. 

"You have to want a pet. You have to give them time and they appreciate it," Simmons said. "They enjoy it. They are social. They respond." 

Tortoise Group is working on a tortoise census, wanting to know exactly how many tortoises are in the valley. You can register yours on the Tortoise Group website, just click on "I Have A Tortoise."

View photos of the tortoises and their habitat in the media player at the top of this story.

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