Hundreds of gopher tortoises saved, relocated to Walton County

gopher tortoise
Matt Aresco | Special to The Sun
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013 at 09:09 AM.

Thanks to the efforts of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Nokuse Plantation, 227 endangered gopher tortoises have a new lease on life.

The threatened tortoises — 28 of which were merely eggs — were recently saved from a development site in Apopka, Fla., right outside the Orlando area, and brought to Nokuse Plantation in Walton County.

"The gopher tortoise is a threatened species, and this is a victory for the species and for the humane treatment of all wild animals threatened by urban development," said Dave Pauli, senior director of The Humane Society’s Wildlife Innovations and Response Team.

The western gopher tortoise population — spanning from the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama to southeastern Louisiana — has been listed as a federally threatened species since 1987. The state of Florida listed the gopher tortoise as a threatened species in 2007 and that summer an effort was made to save tortoises inhabiting construction sites by ending the Incidental Take permit, which resulted in gopher tortoises being buried alive on development sites. Existing permit holders were grandfathered in however. As developments were put on hold during the housing market crash, thousands of gopher tortoises are still living on construction sites with grandfathered permits.

Although developers are not required by law to relocate tortoises, in this particular case, they did. D.R. Horton and Orlando-based Bio-Tech Consulting took the needed steps to ensure a safe removal from the site. D.R. Horton even donated the cost of the backhoe operations.

The process of removing tortoises from a site is labor intensive, Pauli explained.

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