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What should I do if I see a tortoise?

Gopher Tortoise Illustration with text around saying

Keep Tortoises Wild

Be a part of the efforts to help Florida's gopher tortoises stay wild by learning what to do if you see a tortoise! You can learn how to identify gopher tortoises and their burrows at our gopher tortoise education corner

Gopher Tortoise on lawn

Leave wild tortoises alone. Moving or handling a gopher tortoise can be illegal in Florida and may create a situation where a tortoise cannot be returned home. We encourage people to report sightings of gopher tortoises and burrows through the FWC gopher tortoise reporting webform.

Tortoises can thrive in areas where people live and work, such as yards and agricultural lands, and should be left alone in those locations if healthy and not in immediate danger. Occasionally, a well-meaning person moves a tortoise to an unsuitable place such as a swamp, where a tortoise would struggle to survive. If you find a tortoise in an environment where it would not typically be found, note the location, take a photo if possible, and call (850) 921-1030.

If you find a tortoise in the road, you may help the tortoise cross the road. To do this, carefully pick up the tortoise by holding it on either side of its shell and placing it out of harm’s way in the same direction that it was heading. DO NOT take the tortoise with you or move it to a different area. Do not put your life in danger to move the tortoise.

  1. Note location/address. Include a GPS location or photo if feasible.
  2. Take a photo of the animal, if possible.
  3. Move the tortoise out of harm’s way, only if it is safe to do so.
  4. On weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., please call (850) 921-1030 to report the tortoise. After hours and on weekends, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's toll-free Wildlife Alert hotline at (888) 404-FWCC (3922), a local Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator or an emergency veterinary office.
  5. To hold and transport a sick or injured tortoise, place the tortoise into a box lined with newspaper, hay or a towel. Create air holes in the lid or along the top of the sides of the box.
  6. Keep the tortoise away from other wild and captive tortoises, including nonnative species, while in your possession.
  7. Report the tortoise as a sick or injured tortoise to the FWC web application so FWC scientists also have access to the information. 
It is unlawful to keep any sick, injured, orphaned, or otherwise impaired wildlife beyond the time necessary to transport to a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.

If you see development activities on areas with gopher tortoises check the online locator map to see if there is a valid permit for the property. If the property does not have a relocation permit and you observe development-related activities within 25 feet of a tortoise burrow, report the suspected violation to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Development-related activities include staging of heavy equipment within 25 feet of a gopher tortoise burrow and clearing of vegetation for development on a property known to have gopher tortoises.

gopher tortoise friendly yard sign

It is illegal under Florida law to move, harm, or disturb any tortoises, burrows, or eggs without a permit. Tortoise relocation permits are primarily issued only for development related activities. You do not need a permit for a wild tortoise living undisturbed on your property.

What if I want to do construction on my property? 

If you plan to do any construction within 25 feet of a burrow on your property, you must apply for a relocation permit prior to any activity. There are several permits available based on your needs. You can learn more at the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Page.

What if I want to do habitat management or yard maintenance activities?

Permits are not required to conduct agricultural activities, forestry (silvicultural) activities, or activities to improve native wildlife habitat. Such activities include, but are not limited to, tilling, planting, mowing, harvesting, prescribed burning, mowing, disking, roller-chopping and tree-cutting. Routine yard maintenance and landscaping activities that do not harm tortoises or collapse burrows also do not require permits. You can also enhance your property to provide habitat and safety for tortoises through the Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Recognition Program.

Take a photo, note the location, and report it to the FWC gopher tortoise reporting page. Leave the remains. It is illegal to possess any gopher tortoise parts including shells, bones, or eggs, without an FWC issued permit.

Gopher Tortoise close up

Other Ways to Help Gopher Tortoises

  • Watch the road while driving and follow speed limits to avoid hitting tortoises crossing the road.
  • Report sightings of gopher tortoises and their burrows to the FWC webapp.
  • Become a volunteer.