A photo of a Mojave Desert turtle that was illegally seized in June 2021. Utah wildlife officials said they treated nine cases of turtles this year, a slight increase from the past. (Utah Wildlife Division)
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ST. GEORGE – Utah wildlife officials say they’ve noticed a problem that’s slowly getting worse.
They have noticed an increase in thefts related to turtles.
Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said they encountered nine cases related to turtles this year. Seven occurred in Washington County near the native range of the Mojave Desert Turtle, while two occurred in central Utah. The majority of cases have occurred this summer.
Like other wildlife in the state, it is illegal to remove desert turtles from the wild. This is also supported by federal law. The The Mojave Desert Turtle is considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“Removing turtles from the wild can harm wild populations by reducing their ability to reproduce and persist in the landscape,” DWR biologist Ann McLuckie said in a statement Thursday. “Turtles that are removed from the wild cannot be released into the wild due to the risk of introducing disease, especially if they have been kept in a house with other animals. They are susceptible to disease dependent on density called upper respiratory disease, which presents as pneumonia.
Kane and Washington counties are considered two of the most northeastern native ranges of the Mojave Desert Turtle, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. It is also found mainly in Arizona, California and Nevada in the United States. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance says there have been “major declines” in turtle populations over the past few decades.
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was created in Washington County 25 years ago to help preserve some of this natural habitat. Almost 53 acres were added to the reserve earlier this year, making it about 62,000 acres. However, fires have threatened the region in recent years.
It is still estimated that there are approximately 2000 adult turtles in the range.
But it’s not just theft that is a problem. Utah conservation officers say they have also encountered issues with people illegally bringing turtles with them into the state.
“Unfortunately, it is quite common for us to seize turtles either illegally introduced into the state or illegally removed from the wild,” said DWR Lt. Paul Washburn.
Residents of Utah are permitted to own Desert Turtles, but only with the appropriate certifications. Even turtle owners who legally own turtles in other states must be approved by state wildlife officials to bring their pets with them when they move to the hive state, according to the Hive State. division. Turtles in recent cases – both illegal theft and illegal transport within the state – have been seized and placed in the state turtle adoption program.
And when it comes to seeing these creatures in the wild, McLuckie says to watch but not to touch – and certainly not to take.
“If you see a desert turtle when you hike, observe it from a distance and leave it alone for other people to enjoy, too,” she said.
“Turtles are cute, but they can live for decades, can grow too large for their man-made habitats, and can extricate themselves – or just escape – from most backyards. Please leave them alone. stay wild and don’t add to their population decline. “