A Head-Start for the Gopher Tortoise

See more of What We are Doing for the tiny tortoises

The Conservancy’s Mississippi Chapter is leading the way in research and recovery for the Longleaf pine ecosystem and its threatened species like the Gopher Tortoise.  The Nature Conservancy’s Camp Shelby Field Office is testing a way to give the tortoise hatchlings a “sizable” advantage that could benefit entire populations in reestablishing them throughout the Longleaf pine forests in Mississippi.

The goal is to help the young hatchlings increase their size so they are less likely to become prey.  The tortoise hatchlings are raised in an indoor head-start facility for two years before release. Hatchlings are prevented from entering winter hibernation so that they continue to increase in size throughout the winter months.  The two-year-old tortoises are expected to be as large as or larger than 6-7 year old wild tortoises. The larger size is expected to increase their chance of survival by 70-85%. The Camp Shelby staff will release these hatchlings to suitable Longleaf pine habitat.

The Gopher Tortoise Head-Start program shows promise, with our Camp Shelby team quickly adapting these practices to our local landscape.  If successful, our strategy will be shared with other organizations and agencies.  Find out more by contacting us at 601-713-3355 or emailing us at info@conserve.ms

With the decline of Longleaf pine forests, more than one third of the largest Gopher Tortoise population in Mississippi has disappeared in the past 20 years.   Habitat degradation is the leading cause of this decline as gopher tortoises require suitable soils and herbaceous groundcover to forage.  While older tortoises have persisted, hatchling survival has declined.  Smaller tortoises have become more prone prey by other animals as they are forced out of suitable habitats. With these pressures in place, the Gopher Tortoise population needs a boost in being able to reproduce quickly and reach maturity.