Desert tortoise found shot near Fountain Hills

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A desert tortoise was found shot near Fountain Hills. By Jennifer Thomas A desert tortoise was found shot near Fountain Hills. By Jennifer Thomas

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. -- The Arizona Game and Fish Department is trying to determine who shot a desert tortoise that was part of a research study.

Biologists found the juvenile tortoise dead Monday near the Beeline Highway, about 15 miles north of Fountain Hills.

It had been observed alive on Aug. 18 during routine monitoring by the department's non-game biologists, according to a news release. Investigators believe the tortoise was killed around Aug. 20.

"The illegal killing of wildlife is always a concern, especially when that animal is non-threatening like the tortoise and it's part of a long-running research study," said Josh Hurst, the Operation Game Thief coordinator for Game and Fish. "The department has been conducting research for years to monitor and conserve desert tortoises -- a protected species -- in an effort to help keep them off the federal Endangered Species List. Now the study has one less animal and years of study data is compromised."

The female was the second tortoise to have a transmitter affixed and had provided some of the longest-running data to the study, according to Game and Fish officials. Biologists began tracking the tortoise in 2010 and have since located her nearly 300 times.

A total of 15 juvenile tortoises have transmitters and this was the first death among the group.

The department is asking for the public's help in solving this case of unlawful killing.

Anyone with information can call the department's Operation Game Thief hotline toll-free at 1-800-352-0700 or visit and refer to case #14-002388. Callers may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 in this case. All calls may remain confidential upon request.