Group relocates thousands of threatened gopher tortoises to Eglin
Melissa Nelson Gabriel, email@example.com
Thanks to a coalition of Florida companies, thousands of gopher tortoises whose homes were threatened by development have found a new home at Eglin Air Force.
The Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership is helping to move the tortoises from Clermont in central Florida to the sprawling Panhandle Air Force Base because new subdivision being built in Clermont is destroying the animals’ traditional habitat.
Eglin is the largest undeveloped area within the tortoises’ habitat range, said Deborah Burr, a biologist who oversees the Florida Fish and Wild Conservation Commission’s gopher tortoise program.
« Eglin provides us with a huge opportunity to restore the gopher tortoise population, » said Burr, who is working with the The Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership, to relocate the animals.
Jeremy Preston, a biologist at Eglin, said the move will help to prevent the threatened Florida gopher Tortoises from being listed as federally endangered species.
« With the amount of potential gopher tortoise habitat we have, we need to be as proactive as we can to preclude the need for federal listing, » he said in a news release about the project.
Eglin has a goal of providing a home for 6,000 of the tortoises before 2023.
Private businesses, including Pensacola-based Gulf Power, are working with the military and with nonprofit groups to help with the relocation. The Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership is comprised of 15 northwest Florida land owners.
The survival of these animals is linked to the survival of the tortoise, Burr said.
The groups began relocated the turtles about two years ago and it is too early to know whether the relocation efforts have been successful. The key to success will be whether the tortoise successfully reproduce at Eglin.
« They only mate and lay eggs in the summer and we should start seeing that happen at Eglin this year, » she said.