Phoenix families take home new members: Desert tortoises

Phoenix families take home new members: Desert tortoises

« They just sort of lumber around, they’re not too much trouble, » said Michael Kitchen, who, with his wife and kids, gathered around a row of boxes admiring the content of each and every one — a desert tortoise.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department held an adoption event on Saturday, April 11 that found new homes for just more than 50 desert tortoises. The tortoises, which can live to be 100, are increasingly inbred in captivity, leading to extreme overpopulation.

Families gathered at a wildlife center in north Phoenix to admire the animals and, in most cases, take one home.

Only those with a pre-approved application and proper enclosure were allowed to adopt a tortoise.

Game and Fish officials also closely monitored the gender of the newly adopted tortoises, making sure that families adopting two or those who have another tortoise at home were adopting only those of the same gender.

Kitchen, who had a tortoise as a boy, said he wanted to adopt because he wanted to share that experience with his family. A lot of creative names had been suggested for the new addition, he said.

« I’ve heard just about everything, » Kitchen said. « It sure will be interesting. »

Some of the tortoises slept in their boxes, soaking up the warm sun. Others tried in vain to climb the walls and make a (slow) break for it.

One tortoise in particular spent a good part of the morning moving around his box, reaching up and trying to climb the walls each time someone walked by. Officials estimated that he was somewhere around 50 years old.

A desert tortoise grows about 1 inch per year until it reaches a certain length, said Lynda Lambert, a Game and Fish spokeswoman.

« It becomes impossible after they reach about 15 or 16 inches to determine their age, » she said..

Since desert tortoises can reach the century mark, people interested in adopting are strongly urged to have a backup plan in the probability that the tortoise lives longer than its owner. An adopter must also be a permanent resident of Arizona.

For more information on the adoption and care of a desert tortoise, visit