Hundreds of gopher tortoises saved, relocated to Walton County

Published: Friday, October 25, 2013 at 09:09 AM.

"It's pretty impressive," he said. "Gopher tortoises tend to be a solitary animal, so there is one tortoise per borough. Once a site is identified, our team does an assessment. The excavation can take several hours. There's an emphasis on safety for the tortoise, we move a lot of earth to get to them. Once you finally get to the tortoise, it's like Christmas."

In situations where endangered wildlife is being removed from one location, it's also tough to find a permanent home that is safe, explained Pauli. That's where Nokuse Plantation comes in.

"Nokuse Plantation is uniquely qualified for the tortoise survivors," Pauli said. "The beauty in this is that this is a science-based operation. They provide an amazing alternative for the tortoises."

Located between Freeport and Bruce, the Nokuse Plantation, which includes the Biophilia Center, is a 51,000-acre private preserve owned by M.C. Davis since 2000. According to the website, the purpose of the land is to provide wildlife preserve and habitat linkage area between state and federal lands in an effort to support historic biodiversity.

Acclimating tortoises to their new location is a process, said Matthew Aresco, conservation director at Nokuse.

"We find isolated, well-drained areas with plenty of grasses for them to eat," he explained. "To get them accustomed, we put up a large fence enclosure and leave it up for a year so that they'll dig their burrows."

In the past six years, the Nokuse Plantation has worked with the Humane Society to help relocate more than 4,000 tortoises. With their wealth of land, they'll be able to accommodate far more wildlife.

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