It is the law in the State of California that a permit is needed to possess a desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Anyone owning a desert tortoise should complete a CDFG Desert Tortoise Permit Application
form. There is no fee for this permit. When a permit is granted,
an adhesive tag with a unique identification number is provided that
should be affixed to the tortoise. This article explains how the permit
system works, and answers some of the commonly asked questions.
Obtaining a permit
Getting a permit is quite simple. The first step is to obtain a permit application form. Permit application forms
are available from California Department of Fish and Game or from CTTC Officers or Adoption Chairs. To request a Desert Tortoise Permit Application from CTTC Officers or Adoption Chairs,
contact the CTTC Chapter closest to you.
Normally, CTTC officials will ask new owners to complete a permit
application as part of the process of adopting a desert tortoise through
the CTTC Adoptions Program. If you live in Los Angeles, Orange,
Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties the CTTC Adoption
Officers are authorized to accept the application form and issue tags
for the desert tortoises they place. They will also provide CDFG
tags for existing owners of legally acquired
desert tortoises that have not been tagged. However, the adoptions
officer mat need to see the actual tortoise to confirm its
Completing the Desert Tortoise Permit Application Form
The information requested on the form is straightforward. You write
in your name, address, date of acquisition of the tortoise and a description of how you obtained it. A simple
explanation is sufficient such as "long-term captive", "found wandering in city street", "bred in captivity", or
"obtained through the CTTC adoption program". You complete the form by signing the declaration that the tortoise was
obtained legally. No fee is required to obtain the permit. The form also requests basic statistics on the tortoise itself.
The back of the Desert Tortoise Permit Application form has the following instructions:
Instructions for Completing the Desert Tortoise Permit Application
Contact the License and Revenue Branch at LRB@dfg.ca.gov if you have questions regarding the Desert Tortoise Permit Application.
1. Complete an application for each animal.
2. It is mandatory to complete all items on the application. Incomplete applications will be returned.
3. Sign and date the application.
4. Mail all copies of the application to the appropriate address:
Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego
and Ventura Counties: California Turtle and Tortoise Club (CTTC),
P.O. Box 1753,
Chino, CA 91708-1753.
Elsewhere in California: Ms. Ginger Wilfong,
P.O. Box 2005,
Castro Valley, CA 94546-0005.
Include a self addressed, stamped, legal size
envelope for processing. This application will become your permit when
validated and returned to you. Please allow 8-10 weeks for processing. DO NOT MAIL YOUR APPLICATION TO THE DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME OR IT MAY FACE CONSIDERABLE DELAYS IN PROCESSING.
Breeding of captive tortoises is not authorized by the terms of this permit. If the gender of the tortoise is unknown and you have more than one, you should keep them separated to prevent breeding.
It is illegal to take tortoises from the wild. The penalty for doing so can be up to $5,000 and one year in jail.
If you need assistance in finding a new home for your tortoise, contact the California Turtle and Tortoise Club at www.tortoise.org No tortoise that has been in captivity shall be released into the wild.
Tagging Desert Tortoises
Fish and Game will send you a numbered tag to affix to your
tortoise. The tag can be placed at the rear end of the
animal on the carapace or plastron, or on the inside of the shell
behind one of the back legs. Unfortunately the tags
can wear out within a few years. Because there is less wear and tear,
placing the tag on the inside of the shell seems to work
best. However, this site may not be accessible in small tortoises.
The law requires that the tag be attached to the tortoise that it was issued for at all times. Obviously you cannot
put a sticker on a tiny hatchling desert tortoise. Additionally, despite the provision of food, an absence of
predators and the availability of medical care, not all hatchlings will survive. For these reasons, CTTC usually
recommends that owners wait until the animals are 2-3 years old before registering them. Owners must use their
judgment as to best time and place to put the tag. Remember, a healthy juvenile tortoise will put on significant
growth each year. Because growth occurs at the edges of the scutes, a tag that overlaps the edge of a scute may loosen
and fall off.
If the tag becomes lost or wears out, talk to your CTTC adoptions
officer and fill out a permit application form if needed. Be sure to
state on the
form that this is a request for a replacement tag and provide the
number of the old tag.
Can my tortoise be taken away from me?
There are several good reasons for obtaining a permit to keep your tortoise. First, it is against the law to keep a desert tortoise without having a permit, and the permit tag must be fixed to the tortoise. On several occasions California Department of Fish and Game Officers have confiscated tortoises that have been kept without permits or lacking tags. Second, the permit offers a simple way to establish legal proof of ownership should the animal wander away from its home and get turned into an Animal Control or Humane Society facility. Animal Control and Humane Societies may not turn over desert tortoises without proof of ownership, and there have been several instances of tortoise owners being unable to reclaim their pets. Additionally, a found tortoises owner can be traced from the tag number. Over the years CTTC has returned several tagged tortoises to their owners.
Originally published in the Tortuga Gazette 43(2): 11-12, July/August 2007