Regional veterinarians learning new techniques to limit backyard breeding — new custodians needed

A desert tortoise sterilization clinic is being held in Las Vegas onAugust 27 and 28, 2014. This first-ever clinic is intended to help curtail the incidence of backyard breeding among captive tortoises.

Selected veterinarians from Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and California who deal with captive desert tortoises will participate in the clinic to learn new sterilization techniques. The clinic is taking place at the Oquendo Center in Las Vegas. The clinic instructors are Dr. Stephen Divers, professor of zoological medicine at the University of Georgia’s (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Laila Proenca, veterinary resident in zoological medicine at UGA; and Dr. Jay Johnson of the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital. The three pioneered the procedures they will teach to local veterinarians. The local practitioners will then have the opportunity to perform the procedures within their own private practices.

The clinic is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service), the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), and Tortoise Group. It is part of a larger inter-agency effort to more effectively manage captive tortoises.

“It is really great to see all of the support and efforts of local partners to plan and hold this first-ever sterilization clinic,” stated Dr. Peregrine Wolff, the NDOW Wildlife Veterinarian. “We are hopeful the new techniques will help us get a handle on backyard breeding of tortoises, and eventually help reduce the numbers of unwanted captive tortoises.”

“We believe that training local veterinarians in the procedures will result in additional clinics to which the public can bring their tortoises to be sterilized,” said Mike Senn, Assistant Field Supervisor for the Service. “We hope this service can be provided at little or no cost to the tortoise custodians.”

Tortoises from the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, which is closing at the end of 2014, are some of the tortoises earmarked for sterilization. More than 50 tortoises will be sterilized during the two-day clinic, and new custodians are being sought to take the animals once they have been through a post-operative observation period and deemed healthy enough for adoption.

“We are excited about this new opportunity and are looking for people who want to be part of this ground-breaking effort,” said Jim Cornall, Executive Director of Tortoise Group. “The first-ever sterilized tortoises will be available for placement in early September, and we need about 50 good homes in southern and northern Nevada.”

Tortoise Group is handling all of the adoptions in Nevada, and those interested can fill out an application on the group’s website at The website has information on creating a tortoise burrow, as well as details on diet and care. New custodians will be provided with instructions and assistance in looking after their adopted tortoise following its three-day post-operative observation period.

Nevada law allows only one pet or “captive” tortoise per person, but grandfathers in tortoises held prior to enactment of the new law. The captive desert tortoise population has been increasing, due largely to uncontrolled backyard breeding. While sometimes this is deliberate, it can also be by accident. A female desert tortoise can carry sperm for over a decade, so the possibility of new hatchlings always exists. Sterilization is one way the captive population can be brought under control.


Releasing captive tortoises into the wild is not only illegal; it can threaten wild tortoises.Even captive tortoises that appear healthy can carry diseases that may be debilitating or fatal to wild populations.