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Park rangers work to save turtles

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By Alicia Eakin - bio | email

August 19, 2008

ADEL, GA (WALB) - The Rangers at Reed Bingham State Park near Adel have hatched a plan they believe will help Georgia's state reptile crawl off the endangered species list.

It's a gopher tortoise management program and so far, the park says the plan has worked.

This nest of gopher tortoise eggs would be a feast for many predators.

"Raccoons, skunks, foxes and armadillos. They all eat the eggs," says Park Manager Chet Powell. 

But it's the rangers at Reed Bingham who get their hands on them first.  "We dig up the eggs, incubate them, hatched them and put them right back where we found them."

It's a hatch and release program to help save this endangered species and give these babies a better chance at life.

 "Once they've hatched, the predators tend to leave them alone a little bit more than if they were eggs so we give them a boost in their survival chances," said Interpretive Ranger Jennifer Glover.

 "After they hatch they have a good chance to survive because they are diurnal and come out in the day to eat and most of their predators are nocturnal," said Glover.

Since 2004, Reed Bingham has hatched and released hundreds of gopher tortoises but it will be several decades before they see the results.

"Hopefully we've done good out there in the population but this guy right here won't be able to reproduce until he's 20 years old."

But they believe the results will be good.

"We know it's working because we see baby tortoises each year. Before we hardly ever saw a baby gopher tortoise in the wild."

This year the park collected 171 eggs. Over 50 have already hatched. They will be released back to their original burrows next month.

So far, the program has been so successful that State parks and environmental agencies all over the country have initiated similar programs in their areas.

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