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Sanibel among communities to mark Florida Gopher Tortoise Day

By Staff | Apr 6, 2018

FWC April 10 marked Florida Gopher Tortoise Day.

Florida’s only native tortoise – and a threatened species – has a day of recognition coming up.

April 10 marks Florida Gopher Tortoise Day, and wildlife officials reported that spring days are a good time to spot one as the species becomes more active, foraging for food and searching for a mate.

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has encouraged Floridians to get involved in Gopher Tortoise Day since 2016 and share awareness of how people can help this species that is found in every county of the state,” FWC officials said in a prepared statement.

At its April 3 meeting, the Sanibel City Council declared April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day.

“The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species and is an important indicator of ecosystem health,” Vice Mayor and Councilman Mick Denham said.

FWC Gopher tortoises create burrows.

He noted that the island sustains a sizable population of gopher tortoises, which inhibit conservation lands, residential neighborhoods and commercial properties.

“And my front yard, by the way,” Denham said.

Joel Caouette, with the city’s Natural Resources Department, accepted the proclamation.

He noted that there are several, city-owned sanctuary sites across the island.

“The city has been doing their part to further the protection of the gopher tortoise,” Caouette said.

FWC A baby gopher tortoise.

The species needs plenty of sandy sunny habitats with an open tree canopy to thrive and survive, according to the FWC. Officials advised that it is best to leave gopher tortoises and their half-moon shaped burrow entrances alone. It is illegal to disturb or harm them, their burrows or their eggs.

To help a gopher tortoise cross a road, pick it up and place it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. Also remember that the tortoise is a land animal – never attempt to put it into water.

“Gopher tortoise burrows have been known to house as many as 350-plus other wildlife species, making this animal a keystone species,” Rachel Rainbolt, development and education coordinator for the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, said.

She noted that habitat destruction is the main threat to its species’ populations.

“CROW treats an average of 60-75 gopher tortoises annually, and their main reason for admission is from being ‘HBC’ or Hit By Car,” Rainbolt said.

FWC April 10 marked Florida Gopher Tortoise Day.

As of April 5, CROW had eight gopher tortoises recovering in the hospital.

CROW will host a “Patient Profiles: Gopher Tortoises” program on April 14 at 2 p.m. for those interested in learning about why the species is admitted and how the medical staff treats them. The fee is $12 for adults and $7 for ages 4 to 17; one of CROW’s Animal Ambassadors will be present.

Other communities that adopted a Gopher Tortoise Day resolution this year included Alachua and Brevard counties and the cities of Malabar, Melbourne, North Port, Palm Bay, Palm Shores, Rockledge and Tallahassee. In 2017, Gopher Tortoise Day resolutions were adopted by Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Indian River and Sarasota counties, along with the cities of Cape Coral, Flagler Beach and Venice.

“If you’re a fan of the gopher tortoise, help us spread the word on conserving this threatened species, whose burrows are home to hundreds of animals, including the eastern indigo snake, gopher frog and Florida mouse,” Deborah Burr, who heads the FWC’s gopher tortoise management program, said.

For more information, visit MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise.

For more about CROW, visit www.crowclinic.org.

CROW is at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.