How You Can Help
Gopher tortoises are commonly seen in suburban areas around Florida. If a gopher tortoise is living in your yard, take the opportunity to learn about a threatened species and how to conserve it. Here are a few tips:
- Gopher tortoises graze naturally on a wide variety of plants, including broadleaf grasses, wiregrass, prickly pear cactus, wild grape, blackberry, blueberry, beautyberry and many more.
- They generally feed within 160 feet of their burrows but have been known to travel more than twice that distance to meet their foraging and nutritional needs.
- Grow plants native to Florida in your yard, since nonnative plants can be harmful to Florida’s biodiversity. Many native plants will blend in beautifully with your landscaping and also attract native species of birds and butterflies. A Florida Guide to Gopher Tortoise Friendly Plants provides a list of tortoise-friendly plants, many which can be found at your local native nursery.
- Leave the tortoise alone and keep dogs and children away from the tortoise and its burrow.
- If possible, avoid mowing, digging, driving over or otherwise disturbing the area right around the burrow. Trimming of grass or weeds right around the burrow can be done using a weed trimmer.
- Never block the burrow opening which could prevent its exit or entrance.
- Learn more about living with gopher tortoises in urban areas and how to apply for recognition of a Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard.
Vehicle-caused mortality is a large contributor to gopher tortoise deaths. Often, tortoises burrow and forage for food near roads because roadsides are open and sunny. Here are things that you can do to help reduce road mortality:
Observe speed limits and wildlife crossing signs
- Remember gopher tortoise activity is highest in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
- When driving, scan the road and shoulder ahead. Gopher tortoises are slow moving, so allow them time to cross the road.
- If you would like to make your neighborhood a more tortoise-friendly community, crossing signs can be ordered from: wildcotton.com
Do not remove the gopher tortoise from the area
- You may help the tortoise cross the road by placing it out of harm’s way in the same direction that it was going. DO NOT take the tortoise with you or move it to a different area. Also, do not put your life in danger to move the tortoise.
If you see an injured or dead gopher tortoise:
Sick or injured tortoise
- Contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian for guidance during business hours. After business hours, contact an emergency veterinarian for guidance. Provide location information to ensure the tortoise can be returned to its burrow after treatment. For a list of local rehabilitators, call FWC weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 850-921-1030.
- Report sightings of dead gopher tortoises on FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Sightings Application and provide information on cause of mortality, if known. Please report mortalities suspected to be caused by illegal activities to FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at (888) 404-3922.
FWC’s Safe roads for people and gopher tortoises placard contains more information on road safety and how you can help.
A waif gopher tortoise is a tortoise that has been removed from the wild but is not associated with a FWC-permitted relocation. These tortoises are generally from unknown sites and many times cannot be released into the wild due to the threat of disease spread and disruption of established populations.
Under certain circumstances, some of these tortoises will be placed with a permitted educator or a wildlife facility that can properly care for the tortoise for the rest of its life. Many tortoises are with schools or zoos that use waif tortoises for educational purposes. For more information about waifs or if you are interested in becoming a waif recipient site, please download a copy of the Waif Gopher Tortoises Fact Sheet.
Being active in the community is one of the most important things you can do to help conserve these amazing wild animals. Here’s a few ways for you to stay connected and involved.
FWC’s gopher tortoise sightings app
The gopher tortoise sightings app will allow you to take a picture of a gopher tortoise and record its location by uploading the photo and its GPS coordinates from your Smartphone to FWC. This will help us get a better estimate of where large populations of gopher tortoises live.
Report potential violations
It is against the law to kill, harass, or destroy gopher tortoises; this includes their burrows and eggs. If you suspect illegal activity, you can report it anonymously to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, calling #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone, or texting Tip@MyFWC.com.
Let nature run its course
Please leave any gopher tortoise items or artifacts, such as shells, egg fragments and bones, where you found them. Some species rely on these items for survival. An FWC Scientific Collecting permit is required if you would like to keep gopher tortoise artifacts for educational purposes. Visit FWC’s Protected Species Permitting webpage for more information.
Here at FWC, we enjoy working with communities and providing opportunities for people to learn about the gopher tortoise. We look for opportunities to participate in outreach events where we can bring tortoise-related activities and educational content. We have a treasure chest containing gopher tortoise artifacts such as tortoise shells, egg shells, snake skins, tortoise scat and other items. We also have our very own burrow, a life-size replica of an actual gopher tortoise burrow that you can crawl in.
Brochures, information packets, activity books and more can be downloaded from the Education Corner.