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Saving the gopher tortoise

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September 14, 2007

Adel - The Gopher Tortoise is Georgia's state reptile but as more nests are eaten by predators, they are moving closer to extinction.  "The main problem is armadillos. They normally dig in the ground for their food so they are perfect for finding the eggs because they can smell them and dig them out," says park naturalist Jennifer Glover.

So in 2002 the rangers at Reed Bingham State Park began a Gopher Tortoise Management program.  "We go out, search for the eggs, incubate them and hatch them," Glover says.

This year they collected a dozen nests and almost all the eggs hatched. But they won't be heading back to their burrows quite yet.  These little guys will remain in these incubators until they are old enough to survive on their own in the wild, and park rangers will re-release them to their burrows next month.

Each tortoise that's released increases their population.  "The population has probably tripled to quadrupled what it was in the early 80's," says DNR Ranger and former Park Manager Charles Luther.

And each small step is bringing them closer to crawling off the endangered species list.  "I think its a possibility, as the wiregrass habitat is reintroduced around the southeast that you'll see these creatures get back to a nice survivable number," Luther adds.

Reed Bingham's gopher tortoise program is now being used all over the state and country.

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