Reward increases for info in killing of AZ desert tortoise - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

UPDATE

Reward increases for info in killing of AZ desert tortoise

PHOENIX (CBS5) -

The reward has jumped for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the death of a juvenile desert tortoise last summer.

An additional $2,650 is coming from a number of individuals and organizations, including the Arizona Herpetological Association, Desert Tortoise Council, Phoenix Herpetological Society, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter and its Palo Verde Group, Tucson Herpetological Society and Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department's Operation Game Thief had already pledged $500.

The tortoise, with a monitor for tracking, was illegally killed near the Beeline Highway about 15 miles north of Fountain Hills.

Non-game biologists with AGFD saw the tortoise alive Aug. 18, and it was found dead one week later.

The female tortoise was part of a long-running research study and the department's Sponsor A Turtle program. A member of the public had been sponsoring the tortoise to help support the research effort, according to an AGFD news release.

The tortoise was the second to have a transmitter affixed and provided some of the longest running data for the study, according to the release.

Biologists began tracking the tortoise in 2010 and had located her on 300 occasions. There were 15 juvenile tortoises with transmitters, and this was the first mortality, according to the release.

"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," Hurst said. "Now the study has one less animal and years of study data is compromised."

Anyone with information about the killing is asked to call the department's Operation Game Thief hotline toll-free at 800-352-0700 or visit www.azgfd.gov/thief and refer to case #14-002388. All calls may remain confidential upon request.

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