Written by Laura Guttridge of Florida
I have been a volunteer for the Vero Beach Humane Society for many years. As a volunteer, I got notice from them that a 38 acre site in Vero Beach was under construction. Unfortunately, this land was the home to dozens of the endangered gopher tortoises. A controversial state law in Florida allows developers to pay into a land management program, and then plow over gopher tortoise burrows condemning the tortoises inside to a slow death. The entombed tortoise can live for up to 6 months underground before dying of starvation and suffocation.
Typically citizens are not allowed to re-locate gopher tortoises. However, The Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation commission changed its rules, putting aside the required complicated permitting process typically required before relocating gopher tortoises, so we could rescue them.
Ilka Daniels, director of outreach services for the VBHS, spearheaded the efforts, and for the first time regular citizens were allowed to relocate the endangered gopher tortoises. We would wake up early every morning and search the site for wandering tortoises, and we also set up bucket traps to catch them, so we could get them out of harms way. We even excavated burrows, digging deep into their tunnels to find them. One tortoise we rescued was injured and needed to be rehabilitated. All the others we were able to find and save were measured, weighed, numbered and photographed before being sent to a holding pen, until they could be release into their new 18 acre preserve. They would be taken outside daily to roam in the Florida sunshine and eat fresh grass while they waited to be released into their new home.
At the end of our rescue, which took months, we managed to saved 31 of the endangered gopher tortoises. Private land owners can actually be provided with financial incentives by establishing tortoise preserves. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to get to know one of these amazing animals would agree that they are certainly worth saving. I am honored to have had the opportunity to help give these animals a new lease on life. More great photos here
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