The Georgia DNR estimates about 2,000 gopher tortoises live on the conservation land.
The state of Georgia has expanded conservation lands for the state’s official reptile, the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), in an effort to restore the tortoise to longleaf pine habitats in which it once roamed.
The Conservation Fund and Open Space Institute (OSI) acquired a 16,083-acre tract that borders the Satilla River on the Atlantic coast.
“The property is one of the largest undeveloped, unprotected sites on the southeast Atlantic coast,” Andrew Schock, state director for the Conservation Fund told GBPNews.com. “It’s 9,800 acres of upland (forest) balanced by the roughly 6,200 acres of salt marsh is just unparalleled.”
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources believes that there are more than 2,000 gopher tortoises on the property. The land is also a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery site for the eastern indigo snake, which is dependent on the burrows that the gopher tortoise creates, for shelter.
“It is in population sizes more dense than any other location that we’re aware of in Georgia and through studies completed by the DNR it appears there are over 2,000 individual gopher tortoises on this tract,” Schock said.
The Conservation Fund and OSI, in conjunction with the Georgia DNR, will restore the reptile as well as its longleaf pine habitat on the lands and make the land available for public use.
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. It 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. It dines 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.