Reflections on 1721’s Ordeal: 1721’s ordeal sparked strong emotions among Archbold researchers and other staff, the first obviously being a sense of outrage, not to mention extreme relief upon her safe return. For me, this was also mixed with a large dose of frustration. I am not naïve enough to think societal attitudes and cultural practices change overnight. However, I wish we could find ways to expedite human behavioral changes in response to new scientific knowledge. (Click here for Part I of this story)
We’ve known for decades that Gopher Tortoises are in trouble, and it’s been nearly 10 years since the State of Florida granted them legal protection as a threatened species. When it comes to protecting tortoises, two things may be getting in the way.
First, there is a misperception that Gopher Tortoises are abundant, which is partly due to their long life span (> 80 years). Although there are still “a lot” of Gopher Tortoises in Florida, all projections of population trends for this species point downward (http://myfwc.com/media/969926/Gopher_Tortoise_BSR.pdf). There are too few protected, suitable habitats large enough to sustain healthy populations, defined as > 250 individuals. When you see a handful of adult tortoises living in an isolated lot surrounded by houses, or next to a highway, the unfortunate truth is you are witnessing the last survivors of a doomed colony.
Second, tortoises may suffer from pervasive negative attitudes towards reptiles. Like other vertebrate animals, turtles (and snakes and lizards) exhibit complex behaviors and are capable of experiencing stress and pain. Thus they deserve as much humane treatment as we afford to fur-bearing creatures.
So the question becomes, how can we be more effective in communicating this kind of information to the public and encouraging support for protecting Gopher Tortoises as part of our unique natural heritage? All of us at Archbold are dedicated to this mission, but we can’t accomplish it alone. A conservation ethic must be nurtured and reinforced by our educational system and society at large. As ever, this remains an uphill fight.
Text by Dr. Betsie Rothermel, Associate Research Biologist and director of the Archbold Herpetology Program
#TheRealFlorida #KeepFLWild #GopherTortoise #MyFWC #OhFlorida
Copyright Archbold Biological Station, 2016
Footnote: This blog is longer and more detailed than our usual format. We posted an extended blog article to make sure we had a public place to share this important story.
Learn more about Archbold’s herpetology work on our website here
Learn about Gopher Tortoises from the Gopher Tortoise Council here