Hendry-Glades Audobon Society presents Gopher Tortoises: A Keystone Species

(Caloosa Belle/Danika J. Hopper) (From left to right) Adrian Fabrega, Ariana Fabrega, Momoka Maeda, Sarina Wingard, and Regina Rojas at the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society’s Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program presentation last Monday.

The Hendry-Glades Audubon Society held an informative and delightful presentation, about Gopher Tortoises, at the Dallas Townsend Agricultural Extension last Monday evening. Speaker, Momoka Maeda, from FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program presented an informative and delightful program.

“Gopher tortoises are reptiles that occupy habitat throughout Florida. They dig deep burrows for shelter and forage on low-growing plants. Gopher tortoises share their burrows with more than 350 other species and are a keystone species,” said Maeda as she held up a gopher carapace for the crowd to see.

Maeda talked about how to identity a gopher tortoise, their behaviors, conservation concerns, and the laws in place to protect them.

In the state of Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as a Threatened Species. Both the tortoise and its burrow are protected by law. Regulations clearly indicate that it is illegal to handle gopher tortoises or to disturb their burrows. They must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place, and property owners must obtain permits from the FWC to capture or relocate them.

Surprisingly, there were quite a few young tortoise enthusiasts at the presentation. One of whom told everyone how his family had stopped to rescue a gopher tortoise from the middle of the road on the way to the event.

“We saw it in the road, and we knew we had to stop and help it!” said Adrian Fabrega.

Maeda praised the tortoise-obsessed-children for attending the meeting as well as taking on the role of youth ambassadors for this truly important species. After a brief Q&A Session, the night sadly came to an end.

Hendry-Glades Audubon is always looking for new members. For information about how to join contact Steve Buczynski: stephenbuczynski@gmail.com or Margaret England: hgaudubon@gmail.com or online at www.hendrygladesaudubon.org.

Danika can be reached at dhopper@newszap.com

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