Desert Tortoise Rescue

Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue


Drawing of a Desert Tortoise

Our mission is dedicated to the survival of the desert tortoise through education and adoption programs, working closely with government and military agencies, schools, community groups and local businesses.

During the 1920s, there were 1000 California desert tortoises per square mile in our local Mojave desert. After only 70 years, in 1990, the desert tortoise was listed as a threatened species through the US Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Act. The tortoises' decline began primarily with loss of habitat from cattle grazing on the delicate desert grasses that are the base of the tortoise diet, and then human encroachment on desert land.

Currently, the tortoises' main survival danger is raven predation on hatchlings and upper respiratory disease syndrome (URDS) which is believed to have been introduced into the wild population in the early 1980s. According to the California Department of Fish and Game guidelines, it is unlawful to release a tortoise back into the wild after any length in captivity. This regulation is to prevent the spread of the disease.

And that is why Desert Tortoise Rescue is in operation.

The Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue's dedicated volunteers spend almost all their spare time in outreach programs teaching local residents – from pre-school children to seniors – not to handle or touch any desert tortoise they may find in their area.

If you do find a desert tortoise, DO take pictures, get down and look at it, watch it to see how it moves and what it eats, and then walk away knowing how fortunate you are to have seen a vanishing, regal creature.

While driving on desert roads, DO keep an eye out for tortoises crossing. If you encounter one and have plenty of room to pass, drive slowly and carefully around it. If you don't have room to pass, stop and let the tortoise move across the road of its own accord. If the tortoise is on a paved road and in immediate danger, pull over to a safe place. Walk over to the tortoise, letting it see you approaching. Lift it slowly and gently, keeping it level and low to the ground. Move it to a safe place off the road, no more than 100 yards away, in the same direction it was traveling. Carefully set it down, preferably in the shade of a shrub. It is imperative not to frighten the tortoise so that it does not void its vital internal water supply. DON'T take it home and DON'T feed it.

If you find a tortoise that is sick or injured (runny nose, hit by car, dog attack), please call Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue at 760-369-1235. We will come to the site and retrieve the tortoise. We begin medical treatment immediately, and after their complete rehabilitation, they are placed up for adoption to qualified caretakers. Again, please note that if a healthy tortoise is taken into your possession, it is in "captivity" and cannot be released back into the wild, and must be turned over to the Rescue and/or adopted by you. A tortoise can live to be 80 to 100 years old, so taking one in is more than a lifetime commitment. When a tortoise cannot be adopted for some reason, the Rescue cares for the tortoise for life.

If you want a pet desert tortoise, DON'T take one out of the desert! Taking ("harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, collecting or attempting to engage in such conduct") violates the Federal Endangered Species Act and the State of California Department of Fish and Game regulations. Violating these laws can result in a substantial fine. There are already many displaced tortoises looking for a good home. DO call the Desert Tortoise Rescue for adoption information at 760-490-2818. Licenses, care sheets, and edibles information are available at the Rescue.


If you get tired of a pet desert tortoise, DON'T
release it into the desert! Again, release of a captive tortoise is a violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act and the State of California Department of Fish and Game regulations. Violating these laws can result in a substantial fine.

For more information on:

  • Tortoise facts
  • Membership opportunities
  • Volunteering
  • How you can help

Please contact Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue. We are a non-profit organization solely dependent on private funding for our work. We are always in need of construction materials, office supplies, heating pads and hot lamps, and monetary donations to assist in the purchasing the much-needed medication for tortoise rehabilitation.

Desert Tortoise Rescue
Slow Mail: P.O. Box 1099, Joshua Tree, California 92252

For more locations and information California Turtle & Tortoise Club

Related DesertUSA Pages

The Desert Tortoise
Desert Animals & Wildlife Index
The Story of Joshua Tree Tortoise Rescue

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