As natives of the Southwest, desert tortoises are equipped to handle harsh conditions. But they're no match for habitat degradation.

One way humans can help is by providing a safe and adequate home for these gentle creatures, experts say.

One such expert is Stephane Poulin, herpetology curator at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which handles an adoption program for the attention-grabbing reptiles.

The animals gained official protection in 1989 and are not supposed to leave the state.

That's one of the ways that desert tortoises find their way to the museum: people who may have had the tortoises for years are not officially allowed to leave Arizona with their hard-shelled friends in tow.

"They belong to the state of Arizona at all times, so they need to be left behind," Poulin says. "The museum's role is to find suitable homes for these tortoises."

The tortoises can live for up to 80 years and don't typically require a lot of work to keep because they are suited to the region's climate.

However, potential homes should have yards that provide plenty of shade, and the "custodians" (not owners) of the reptiles should also make sure the tortoises have at least one or two adequate burrows where they can flee extreme temperatures.

Poulin says the tortoise adoption program at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Find more information about the program here.