The conservation of tortoises poses a unique situation because several threatened species are commonly kept as pets within their native ranges. Thus, there is potential for captive populations to be a reservoir for repatriation efforts. We assess the utility of captive populations of the threatened Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) for recovery efforts based on genetic affinity to local areas. We collected samples from 130 captive desert tortoises from three desert communities: two in California (Ridgecrest and Joshua Tree) and the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (Las Vegas) in Nevada. We tested all samples for 25 short tandem repeats and sequenced 1,109 bp of the mitochondrial genome. We compared captive genotypes to a database of 1,258 Gopherus samples, including 657 wild caught G. agassizii spanning the full range of the species. We conducted population assignment tests to determine the genetic origins of the captive individuals. For our total sample set, only 44 % of captive individuals were assigned to local populations based on genetic units derived from the reference database. One individual from Joshua Tree, California, was identified as being a Morafka’s desert tortoise, G. morafkai, a cryptic species which is not native to the Mojave Desert. Our data suggest that captive desert tortoises kept within the native range of G. agassizii cannot be presumed to have a genealogical affiliation to wild tortoises in their geographic proximity. Precautions should be taken before considering the release of captive tortoises into the wild as a management tool for recovery.