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Desert Tortoise Legality

Legality of Desert Tortoise Ownership: The desert tortoise is currently protected by law in California. The California Fish and Game Code contains the following laws:

Sec 5000: It is unlawful to sell, purchase, harm, take, possess, transport, or shoot any projectile at a tortoise (Gopherus).  This section does not apply to the taking of any tortoise when authorized by the Department.

Sec 5001: The provisions of Section 5000 do not prohibit the possession of any tortoise (Gopherus) when the owner can demonstrate that such tortoise was legally acquired or possessed before the effective date of this section.  The owner of a tortoise which may be possessed under this section shall mark or otherwise identify such tortoise to the satisfaction of the Department, and shall not transfer such tortoise to any other person without prior approval of the Department.

The California Department of Fish and Game is very fair to owners of tortoises.  Owners may write to the Sacramento office to obtain a permit to own a desert tortoise. One need simply say that the tortoise was found wandering loose or was a captive-bred hatchling, or otherwise explain the circumstances of possession. As long as the tortoise was not taken from the wild, a permit will be issued at no charge.  Remember, captive tortoises cannot be released, and Fish and Game has no reason to confiscate anyone's tortoises.  The possession of a valid permit and the application of the license tag to the tortoise's shell makes the animal legal.  It is estimated that approximately 100,000 desert tortoises are being kept as pets in California, and only about 30,000 remain in the wild. To apply for a desert tortoise permit, write to:

Resources Agency of California Department of Fish and Game
1416 9th St., Sacramento, CA  95814