South GA tortoises help state population

Published: Jul. 1, 2014 at 4:49 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2014 at 4:49 PM EDT
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COOK CO., GA (WALB) - Members of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and University of Georgia Wildlife officials are hoping to use Gopher Tortoises at Reed Bingham State Park in Cook County to help curb the state's declining Gopher Tortoise population.

"Starting with eggs we collect from very stable populations, raising them up to a size that they're less vulnerable to predators, and then releasing them at sites that have very low populations currently," said John Jensen, of DNR.

To do that, the DNR is using a grant from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pay for UGA wildlife researchers to place protective nets over the eggs in Gopher Tortoise nests at Reed Bingham State Park.

"Once we find them, we'll carefully put a wire screen mesh to protect the nest, stake it down so predators can't get to the nest, and then we'll cover it back up and let the nest incubate naturally," said Tracey Tuberville, of the UGA Savannah River Ecology Lab.

It's a relatively simple process, but one that's also very important to helping protect a species that is an important part of the state's ecosystem.

"We're boosting the survivorship and using those extra hatchlings to help boost other populations," said Tuberville.

In about 90 days the researchers will collect the eggs, put them in incubators until they hatch, and then they'll be transferred to an outdoor enclosure on St. Catherine's Island until their shells harden.

"Then they'll be released in what's known as a soft release pen out at Yuchi Wildlife Management Area near Augusta," said Jensen.

From there, the Gopher Tortoises will eventually be released into the wild, where officials hope they'll go wild and increase the Gopher Tortoise population.

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