FWC: Watch out for gopher tortoises ... and their homes
— The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported it recently issued a citation against a man who ruined two gopher tortoise burrows on Palm Island.
The FWC release, which does not name the alleged perpetrator, states: “It appears that the suspect used the lot with the gopher tortoise burrows in order to access the lot he was trying to clear. In the process, he ran over two clearly-marked burrows with a tractor several times. The suspect was given a notice to appear in court with a misdemeanor citation.”
The breeding season for the tortoises began this month. It is illegal to kill, harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their burrows or their eggs.
The species, which are found in all 67 Florida counties, create burrows that are about seven feet deep and about 15 feet long, though some burrows can be more than 40 feet long, according to the FWC. Since the reptiles’ burrows are shared with other animals, the gopher tortoise is considered a “keystone species” — an animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions.
The burrow openings are half-moon shaped — with the curve at the top — and usually just big enough for a gopher tortoise to fit through (adult gopher tortoises typically are almost a foot long and weigh just less than 10 pounds). The tortoises prefer to live in high, dry, sandy places.
Anyone who suspects illegal activity concerning the tortoises can anonymously call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline any time at 888-404-3922.