Mississippi just gained an additional 38 gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) in the wild as the Nature Conservancy earlier this month released the
Mississippi just gained an additional 38 gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) in the wild as the Nature Conservancy earlier this month released the reptiles at three different tortoise burrows. The team wrote that after the released near the burrows, several tortoises immediately started to dig their own burrows.
While a few of the released tortoises were brought to the conservancy with injuries and rehabilitated, the vast majority of the released tortoises were hatched at the conservancy’s Camp Shelby Head Start facility, where they spent the first 2.5 years of their lives.
“We normally release tortoises that have been raised in captivity for 2 years,” the Nature Conservancy wrote on its Facebook page. “At this age their shell has hardened, and they are able to dig deep burrows. These head start tortoises are about the size of wild 6 to 8 year old gopher tortoises. We are excited to see how they fare in the wild.”
Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced that it will continue its conservation efforts of the gopher tortoise and its critical habitat. The NRCS released its five year plan, which will specifically focus on conserving and restoring the longleaf pine forests where the gopher tortoises live in and build their burrows.
Since 2017, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has protected 274,302 acres of gopher tortoise habitat, with an additional 975,687 acres slated for protection by 2024
Gopher Tortoise Information
The gopher tortoise is a federally endangered species that is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is considered a keystone species by scientists, due to its burrowing nature, which then helps an estimated 360 other animal species who take advantage of those networks of tunnels. The reptile averages about a foot long and can be found in along the coastal plains of the Southeastern United States, including South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, southern Alabama, Mississippi, and southeastern Louisiana. Gopher tortoises dine primarily on grasses in the wild and can eat beans, corn and most fruit. It is protected throughout its range and requires a permit to keep.