Waynesboro, Ga. (WJBF) – Georgia’s official state reptile is now on the state’s endangered species list, but the tortoise is finding new hope in a local nature preserve.
WJBF News Channel 6’s Stefany Bornman gets up close to the Gopher Tortoise and the local efforts to restore the fading population.
In an effort the save the few Gopher Tortoise left, Georgia Power Company is teaming up with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to create a habitat near Plant Vogtle. The hope is that this habitat will help get the Gopher Tortoise off the state of Georgia’s Endangered Species List.
“So here we have a well established Gopher Tortoise burrow and that’s what tortoises are well-known for. They do dig burrows in these hot, dry, sandy areas and their burrows are very important shelters for lots of other animals as well,” said Georgia Power Company Wildlife Biologist Jim Ozier.
Gopher Tortoises are a “keystone species” meaning their survival is critical to keeping an ecosystem, all the other plants and animals of that habitat alive. The reptile eats flowers and berries, spreading the seeds for the plants to grow in other places. Now the alarmingly low number of tortoises left in Georgia has kicked off the initiative to relocate them to this Georgia Power Company owned conservation in Waynesboro, Georgia.
“There were about 40 tortoises released at this site and as far as we know most of those are still doing well,” Ozier told WJBF News Channel 6.
Jessica Mcguire, Georgia D.N.R. Private Lands Program Manager, works with landowners who find the reptiles and relocates them here. After an animal is assessed, it is released near burrows, some of which are man-made. Yet, Mcguire says it takes the reptiles 9-months to accept the habitat as their new home.
“We will have tortoises that even after point will still wander off, but that’s why its important that we choose these sites that have enough ground that when they do decide to disappears from that pen sight there’s plenty of places that they can still go to without being endangered,” Mcguire told WJBF News Channel 6.
Through burrow cameras, Georgia D.N.R. Officers are able to keep an eye on the reptiles. They also utilize controlled burns to help the tortoises repopulate.
“It’s a crucial component for the under story and also to keep the over story cleared,” said Mcguire.
While the goal of this program is to increase the number of the reptiles, Georgia Power Company and Georgia D.N.R. also want to protect the species from complete extinction.
“Hopefully we can get a viable population of tortoises that will last well beyond our lifetime.” Mcguire said.
While the Gopher Tortoise is not on the national Endangered Species List yet, there have been petitions filed, but it is on Georgia’s Endangered Species List.Burrow camera footage: