JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As we near the warmer months, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) wants to remind the public to be aware of another threatened species aside from the manatee: The Florida Gopher Tortoise.
Found in all 67 Florida counties, the gopher tortoise becomes more active in April and May. These slow-moving reptiles are often found digging deep, half-moon shaped burrows for shelter and foraging throughout the state.
Their numbers have taken a sharp drop since 2003 when its population was around 800,000, making these tortoises, their eggs and their burrows protected under state law. To help ensure that they stay around, the FWCC scours Florida to find and protect them.
"Our goal is to figure out how the population is doing, what its viability status is," says Michelina Dziadzio with the FWCC. "We'll be looking to see if it's considered a viable population, which means there are greater than 250 tortoises and there's more than 250 acres of gopher tortoise habitat available and if the density is high enough to support the population of gopher tortoises."
The FWCC says their burrows are particularly important to look out for because it provides homes and refuges for nearly 350 to 400 other species. During the active months, their burrows can be found in yards, neighborhoods and roadways.
If you see a gopher tortoise crossing the road, the FWCC says you could help by picking it up and placing it on the roadside of the direction it was heading. It also reminds the public that these creatures are land animals, so do not place them in the water.
Click here to download the official Florida Tortoise App to report any burrows you see.