PHOENIX -- An illegal killing of a juvenile desert tortoise has the Arizona Game and Fish Department searching for answers this weekend.
According to KPHO.com, non-game biologists last saw the tortoise, which carried a tracking device, alive on Aug. 18. It was found dead earlier this week 15 miles north of Fountain Hills.
The deceased tortoise, a female, was taking part in AGFD's Sponsor A Turtle program as well as a long-term research study. As part of the study, she was tracked and located more than 300 times since 2010 using a transmitter.
"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."
The female was the first of 15 juveniles with the tracking devices to pass away.