Tortoise project teaches preservation - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Tortoise project teaches preservation

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October 29, 2006

Adel -- State DNR rangers and environmental conservationists want to spread the word about the official state reptile. The gopher tortoise is a threatened species, and people must do what they can to help preserve the animal if they see one in the wild.

Rangers let the public get hands on to preserve the animal for the future.

Their numbers are on the decline, and contributing factors include land development and predators.

"It was not uncommon for us to find eggs laid one afternoon and the next morning dug up and eaten," said park manager Chet Powell.

That's why Reed Bingham State Park rangers have a project to preserve the animals.

"I'm very excited about letting them be free," said Emily Backes.

Environmentalists and park volunteers find the tortoise nests, collect and hatch the eggs in captivity so predators can't get to them. Then they're let go.

Before the tortoises were released back into the wild, DNR invited the public to come out, feed them, and learn a little bit about the creatures.

Like why the tortoises are different from turtles.

"Barely even go in the water. Barely even get near the water. They just stay on land most of the time," said Hunter Rice.

The lesson today was about more than just feeding baby tortoises. It was about environmental conservation, and why the tortoises and their burroughs are an important part of Georgia's eco-system.

"Snakes, lizards, even a few birds, like the burrowing owl utilize the tortoise burroughs, and then many many different insects," said Don Stillwaugh.

"I actually want to be a marine biologist when I grow up. So I do a lot of stuff with 4-H, projects on turtles. I think they're really cool," said Backes.

And even more young people may be interested after today. The release of the baby tortoises showed young people to care for creatures that are an important part of Georgia's environment.

The tortoises eat grass, fruits, and other veggies. They are on the threatened species list. The gopher tortoise is the only tortoise species found east of the Mississippi.

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