Slow and Steady Wins the Race to Save Gopher Tortoises

By on September 12, 2012 with 1 Comment By Wayne Pacelle

Our critics in various animal-use industries constantly try to define us, and try to say The HSUS should work on one narrow set of humane issues–or, not to work on humane issues at all. Rest assured, we don’t take their advice. We’ve always been about protecting all animals. And that’s what we’ll continue to do as long as you keep supporting us.

Gopher tortoise being removed from planned construction site in Florida
One of the gopher tortoises saved yesterday in Florida.

Yesterday, our Animal Rescue Team was in the field on a puppy mill raid in South Carolina. But our new Wildlife Innovations and Response Team was at work in Florida on another mission–digging out threatened gopher tortoises at risk of being entombed at a subdivision construction site in Tarpon Springs (you can watch a video of the project here).

In 2007, after a campaign by The HSUS, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ended a controversial policy for construction sites that allowed tortoises to be crushed or buried alive in their burrows. Although the commission improved its policy by requiringnew construction projects to move tortoises before beginning construction, the commission grandfathered all permits applied for before July 31, 2007, allowing the tortoises living at these sites to be entombed. With the economic downturn in recent years and the slowdown in Florida’s housing market, thousands more gopher tortoises are still living on construction sites where they can legally be buried alive.

Fortunately, many developers with grandfathered permits have contacted The HSUS and asked for help moving tortoises to safety out of planned construction sites. Tampa-based Deeb Family Homes did just that before moving forward with development plans at the Keystone Springs site. Thanks to their commitment in saving this ecologically important species–and thanks to the generosity of Dr. Sharon Hook and Erika Seshadri, members of HSUS’s State Council in Florida–we were able to rescue 18 gopher tortoises, estimated in age from just a few months old to 50 years old, from what would have been a horrific end. Generous grants from The Folke H. Peterson foundation have allowed The HSUS to rescue more than 2,200 tortoises since 2006. It’s an amazing feature of our work, and I’m so proud of our staff and supporters for helping these magnificent creatures.

Using a painstaking, meticulous process perfected over the years, our staff worked with a highly trained backhoe operator to carefully extract the tortoises from their burrows one at a time, then placed the animals in individual carriers for relocation.

Early this morning, our team transported the tortoises on a 7-hour journey to their new home at Nokuse Plantation, a permanently protected, 50,000-acre preserve in Walton County, where they're being checked and prepared for release tomorrow. Nokuse Plantation has been an unwavering supporter of gopher tortoise rescue, providing a permanent home to more than 3,500 tortoises and waiving its management fees to help save the animals.

The HSUS has been a leader in gopher tortoise relocations in Florida and will continue to work with developers to relocate tortoises from construction sites to safe homes. Please help us save more of these threatened animals by donating to our special gopher tortoise rescue fund

Animal Rescue and Care, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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1 Comment

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  1. Nancy E Harrington says:

    I have a gopher turtle in my backyard which has burrowed into my septic tank drain-field Who can I get to remove it. I live in DeFuniak Springs, FL.

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