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$5,000 Added to Reward for Killer of Threatened Tortoises in Florida

$5,000 Added to Reward for Killer of Threatened Tortoises in Florida

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity today added $5,000 to the reward for information leading to an arrest or fine in the killing of two state-protected gopher tortoises beaten to death in Florida earlier this month.

“It’s deeply disturbing that someone would harm these gentle, defenseless creatures,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney and lifelong Floridian dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians. “These tortoises are our wild neighbors and they deserve justice. I know fellow Floridians and visitors to our state feel the same.”

On June 8 children discovered two tortoises that were apparently beaten along a bicycle path in Lakewood Ranch. One of the tortoises was found dead with its shell cracked, and the other was in a pool of its own blood. Neither tortoise survived the attack.

A local newspaper reports that at least three people on a neighborhood forum have offered rewards totaling $1,100 to capture the person responsible, and the Lakewood Ranch community development district supervisor offered an additional $500. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has a reward hotline, and anyone offering information leading to an arrest may be eligible for a reward of up to $600 from the agency. Today’s announcement brings the total awards offered to $7,200.

Gopher tortoises are fully terrestrial turtles that live in intricate burrows in the sandy soils of upland forests and prairies. They are most easily recognized by their shovel-like front limbs, which they use for burrowing, and their elephant-like hind legs. These tortoises can live from 40 to 60 years in the wild. They are important members of native Florida habitats because their burrows offer refuge to more than 350 other species of wildlife.

Widespread urban development and historic development practices that allowed tortoises to be “entombed” in their burrows have severely reduced the number of gopher tortoises in existence. They continue to disappear in the face of ongoing habitat loss, herbicide and pesticide pollution, harmful forestry practices and disease. Because these tortoises are fighting to survive, they are now protected as threatened under Florida law and are candidates for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Someone probably has information that can lead the authorities to the person who committed this cruel, illegal act of violence,” said Bennett. “I hope they can find it within themselves to share that information and give justice to these tortoises and the communities that loved them.”

Florida law prohibits any person from killing or wounding gopher tortoises, which are protected as threatened in the state. Violating the law is a third-degree felony and punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine or both. Anyone with information should contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or Tip@MyFWC.com.