Gopher tortoise becoming endangered - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Gopher tortoise becoming endangered

May 28, 2003

Cook County - Gopher tortoises are already threatened in several surrounding states. Including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Professors and park rangers are doing what they can to keep our official reptile of Georgia in the state.

They aren't the fastest reptiles, but they are slowly crawling toward the national endangered list. Valdosta State University Assistant Professor, Mitch Lockhart, says, "The populations I work with seem to be very healthy and we don't want to have tortoises that have Upper Respiratory Tract Disease get relocated into these populations."

Lockhart is visiting Reed Bingham State Park in Cook County to test gopher tortoises for the contagious disease. He explains the disease, "It weakens their immune system, makes them more susceptible to predators and other diseases and along with stress it can impact their overall health."

First, Lockhart looks for visible signs like runny noses and watery eyes, then he takes a blood sample.Then he drills a hole in the shell to mark the tortoise.

Gopher tortoises are on the decline, but we saw a rare sight, a baby tortoise. Lockhart says, "In the four years I've been studying tortoises, I've seen maybe two that age."

A typical nest is where predators have attacked the eggs and that's another reason why gopher tortoises are hard to find. Park employee, Chet Powell, says while digging eggs out, "These more than likely wouldn't last more than two days. The rivers right there we have raccoons, skunks and armadillos."

Another reason why gopher tortoises are becoming extinct, females don't produce eggs until they are 20 years old. Not all females nest every year.

Gopher tortoises may live an average of 40 to 60 years, sometimes 80 to 100 years-old.

posted at 6:30PM by kathryn.simmons@walb.com

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