(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is planning to spend $40,267 in taxpayer funds to provide the public with a centralized drop off location for pet tortoises and tortoises found in developed or urban areas and provide for their temporary care.
“We have a unique circumstance where we have a species that’s protected under the Endangered Species Act but can also be kept as a pet domestically,” Ted Cook, Nevada state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told CNSNews.com.
“After 20 years or more of this, we find every year there’s hundreds of unwanted pet tortoises and folks looking for an opportunity to do something with them – give them away, get rid of them – and so The Animal Foundation has agreed to receive them and then try to adopt them back out again,” Cook said.
The grant recipient – The Animal Foundation (TAF) in Las Vegas – “will accept pet tortoises and tortoises found in developed or urban areas from the public at the Lied Animal Shelter, and will provide for their temporary care until they are picked up by FWS, or designated representatives.”
“When tortoises were listed [as endangered] in 1989, people were keeping them as pets,” Cook said. “They were grandfathered in, and then these were all theoretically descendents of those captive tortoises, although we realize that there are still probably some people who aren’t aware that they’re protected and they might find a tortoise in the wild and keep it, but that’s illegal to do so.”
Once dropped off, the tortoises will be assessed by veterinary staff to determine if it is suitable for adoption.
“These unwanted pet tortoises can’t be released back to the wild, because of issues with diseases and things like that, that they might spread through the wild population,” FWS spokesperson Jeannie Stafford told CNSNews.com.
Respiratory tract diseases are common in tortoises, “in captive populations in particular, and they can transmit that to wild tortoises and harm wild tortoise populations,” Cook said.
Respiratory tract diseases are “generally untreatable,” and tortoises are euthanized, he said.
“Theoretically, it may be treatable, but the difficulty and time and expense would be insurmountable,” Cook added. “Sometimes we’ll watch tortoises for a period of time if their clinical signs are minimal, and they can return to health, but it’s not black or white.”
In the past tortoises were coming in at a rate of over 1,000 pet tortoises a year into a facility managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the San Diego Zoo.
The grant recipient will also “notify the designated representatives” who eventually adopt a tortoise “of any tortoises that are known to have been brought from out of state,” the grant announcement said.
“The recipient will develop a tortoise adoption program consistent with State and Federal regulations, and authorizations aimed at increasing positive adoption outcomes,” the announcement added.
The grant was posted on April 13, 2013. The closing date for applications was May 3, 2013.