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How to adopt a desert tortoise from Arizona Game and Fish

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The deadline draws near: Anyone looking to adopt a desert tortoise this year from the Arizona Game and Fish Department needs to get their application in soon before it is time for the reptiles to hibernate for the winter.

Tegan Wolf, the desert tortoise adoption program coordinator for the department, said over email that she thinks Oct. 19 will be the application deadline this year, but “you want to get your application in as soon as possible.”

Wolf said close to 800 tortoises have been adopted since the program formally began in 2016.

Fred and Debbie Santesteban live in Chandler and decided to adopt a desert tortoise from Arizona Game and Fish in 2001. Today, Gus still lives in his burrow in their backyard. 

After two decades Gus has figured out some tricks: “He’ll open the door and come in for the day,” Fred said, explaining that Gus can use his front leg to open their sliding door. 

The Santestebans have been charmed by their reptile pet. “He’s part of the family and he’s part of the house,” Fred said about Gus. Debbie added that Gus has his “picture on the Christmas card.”

Why are desert tortoises available for adoption?

Desert tortoises are found in the wild in the Sonoran Desert and it is illegal to take one from its natural habitat and keep it as a pet. Despite this, they have become desirable as pets and some people illegally breed them, Wolf said.

“They can lay up to 12 eggs in captivity and most of them survive,” she said. “Because they live so long, it is usually about 10-12 years before they are large enough that people realize they are in over their head with 30-40 larger tortoises.”

She also some tortoises need to be rehomed because they

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