Digging into gopher tortoise protection

By on May 22, 2017 with 3 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

At The HSUS, we work to save animals. But we also work to spare them from cruelty and suffering. If someone is to kill an animal – and that outcome cannot be avoided or prevented — we do our best to see that the killing doesn’t amount to torture, and that death comes swiftly.

There are many terrible ways to die, and that grim topic is a necessary focus of our work to help animals. Killing dogs and cats in gas chambers is a practice we are working to end in every state. Killing broiler chickens by shackling them upside down and finishing them off with a neck slicer is a routine practice in the poultry industry that we’re targeting. And for wild animals, surely one of the worst ways for an animal to die, among many, is to be buried alive, and it happens more than you may know.

It’s a particular risk for gopher tortoises. In fast-growing Florida, some developers, with older permits, literally bury these animals under concrete and steel. Those materials are so solid that they nullify the prodigious digging skills of the tortoises, preventing them from escaping their subterranean dens. In some cases, after they’re entombed, a tortoise may succumb from no water or food after months of struggling to escape.

To prevent that drawn-out misery, we work with developers to dig them out before a commercial build happens. Led by our extraordinary partner Carissa Kent, who leads our digging and translocation efforts, we’ve saved more than 6,000 gopher tortoises since we started working together 12 years ago. Last Thanksgiving, I went down and participated in such a dig and helped carry out a few tortoises to safety. It was thrilling to give these animals a second chance in a new environment.

The new sanctuary in Tequesta, Florida, is a vital habitat for some of the state’s native species, especially the imperiled gopher tortoise. Photo by Ben Callison/HSWLT

One other way that we help tortoises, and so many other creatures, is to permanently protect land. Our affiliated organization, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, does just that. HSWLT protects nearly 20,000 acres of wildlife habitat on more than 100 sanctuaries it manages here in the United States and Canada. Through our partnerships in the United States and around the world, HSWLT has helped preserve more than 400,000 acres for wildlife.

Our latest property in Tequesta, Florida, is a vital habitat for the state’s native species, especially the imperiled gopher tortoise. The land was generously donated by a landowner who realizes just how crucial habitat is to the preservation of wildlife.

The new sanctuary is located along the Loxahatchee River, and it is an island of forested habitat with palmetto ferns and slash pines, surrounded by residential development. It has deep, sandy soil that the gopher tortoises love burrowing into. Besides the gopher tortoise, it is home to squirrels, coyote, deer, fox, bobcat, rabbits, egrets, and other birds.

Working directly with private landowners, HSWLT has established more than 100 permanent wildlife sanctuaries that host all sorts of animals in forests, wetlands, high desert, lakes, grasslands, and even rainforests. On these lands, recreational and commercial hunting and trapping will always be prohibited. We won’t sell off lands for McMansions or strip malls, or mine the earth for minerals.

Every acre we protect helps wildlife survive. But we don’t stop there. We advocate for the preservation of public lands and fight efforts to roll back protections. That’s why we’ll fight any efforts, including the one announced by President Trump last month, for a potential rollback of remarkable marine and terrestrial designations of habitats under the Antiquities Act. That law, enacted in 1906, has protected countless millions of acres from a range of commercial activities that threaten wildlife on land, in the air, and in our oceans.

And while we’re advocates for threatened and endangered species, we are also advocates for non-endangered wildlife. Every life, small or large, abundant or scarce, matters. Through our rescue, preservation, and advocacy efforts, we’re fighting for them all. Because every one of them matters to us.

Support the work of the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust »

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Peggy Ellison says:

    I am so appreciative knowing that you are out there preserving our animals, saving them from brutality and helping them to survive. Thank you and the HSUS.

  2. Kimberly Blair says:

    You guys are the unsung heroes. Thank you for all the work you do to create a more humane world.

  3. Kimberly Blair says:

    Thank you for helping to make our world more humane.

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