Sunday, September 20, 2015

Gopher Tortoise

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse and Beach Access are at the eastern edge of the island. The area is a wildlife refuge and is so popular that parking often is a problem. We visited twice towards the end of our stay at the end of March and saw interesting birds and a hoard of birders. Several interesting warblers were in the vicinity, but light was generally too poor for good photos. The crowd of noisy birders also blemished the experience.

We did see Gopher Tortoises, which are threatened in their southeastern range by predation, habitat destruction, and hunting. People have eaten tortoises through the ages. During the Great Depression they were known as “Hoover Chicken." Today tortoises are often hunted illegally. Until 1989, when Florida banned the practice, Gopher Tortoises were captured for turtle races. Tortoises are also kept as pets. Captive turtles are susceptible to a variety of pathogens.

On Sanibel Island, Gopher Tortoises are found in most upland areas, but mostly on conservation lands. Statewide, the species is classified as Threatened (MySanibel.com). They are herbvores that consume a wide variety of plants. Many other animals depend on tortoise burrows, and the turtles are thus considered to be a keystone species in their ecosystems.

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