Join us Saturday for Gopher Tortoise Day in the Park | by Doreen Damm …..
We work with gopher tortoises year round here at Owl’s Nest but you can join us this weekend at George C. McGough Nature Park’s Gopher Tortoise Day Celebration. Come out and learn about these valuable Keystone Species and our native wildlife at the nature center and take a walk around this gem of a park. Festivities begin at 10:00am and run through 3:00pm but the park is open regular park hours. Located just off State Road 688 at the corner of Walsingham Rd and 146th Street North, Largo. See you there!
Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife rescues numerous gopher tortoises and even receives calls directly from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program because of our success rate! Quite a few of our rescues are results of impact with cars or dog attacks and are mature tortoises, but sometimes we get baby tortoises and the gopher tortoise nursery becomes their temporary home till they are ready to be on their own.
One of the young tortoises was due to a confiscation from the FWC and came to us because somebody kept it as a pet for 2 years and claimed he forgot when he got it, as we can clearly see the date is on the baby’s shell.
Gopher tortoises are a protected species and it is illegal to keep one. He has imprinted on humans and was kept inside so he had never even experience grass. Imprinting in animals is a learning period, typically occurring soon after birth or hatching, and establishes a long-lasting behavioral response to a specific individual and/or habitat. Hatchlings would normally spend the first winter in their mother’s burrow or protected beneath fallen leaves and soil, eventually venturing out to create a burrow of their own. He had to be un-imprinted, meaning he had to stop seeing humans as one of his kind and adapt to his new habitat of grass and sand. This task was made easier by the arrival of two baby tortoises that came to us after a dog attack by a curious Labrador Retriever.
Release day was a satisfying event. Watching them take to a burrow while kicking sand behind them, a skill they need to dig those expansive burrows where they live year-round. The record length was over 45 feet long, but most average about 16 feet long and over 6 feet deep. Their burrows protect them for the elements and they share their home with over 350 species of wildlife. The gopher tortoise burrows are especially important because the burrows dug by the tortoise can provide homes for other animals. This is called commensal living, a place where other animals can live and raise their young. They include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects, such as the Florida mouse, gopher frog, burrowing owl, gopher cricket and the state and federally protected eastern indigo snake.
After release, this little cutie took right to the sand, kicking it back as if he was digging this burrow himself. You can watch the fun by following this link of the release day, posted on Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife Facebook Page. If you aren’t already following us, be sure to Like our Page to see more of our case highlights.
Remember, gopher tortoises are listed as a State Threatened species, and both they and their burrows are protected by state law. The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) has been regulated in Florida since 1972 and has been fully protected since 1988. Despite the afforded protection, gopher tortoise populations throughout the state have declined. If you ever see a gopher tortoise, you’re in for a treat, but make sure that you don’t touch, feed, or harass them. If your lucky enough to have one living in your area, here is a useful guide from Florida Fish and Wildlife on how to live with Gopher Tortoises.
If you see a gopher tortoise in distress, please contact us and an Owl’s Nest licensed volunteer will take it from there. Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife is fully permitted and works closely with the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Enjoy wildlife, make sure to sign up for our blog / newsletters and to stay up to date on our cases, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube Channel. Don’t forget to tune into Otter Cam and watch the fun antics of our river otters as they prepare for their lives, living free in our local waters.
If you happen to find any wildlife in trouble, please report it to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife, a Federally and State Permitted Rehabilitation & Non-Profit Organization. The fastest way to reach us is by texting (813) 598-5926 and we will dispatch a volunteer as soon as possible.
Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife https://owlsnestsanctuaryforwildlife.com/