Sometimes doing the apparent right thing is really doing the wrong thing. Making my rounds one morning here at the Zoo I saw a turtle attempting to cross the road at the Fleischmann/Goodlette-Frank intersection. It was heading towards the pond on Zoo property. As I walked over to retrieve the animal an apparently kind hearted fellow stopped his car in the intersection, grabbed the turtle, put it in the grass by Coastland Mall, returned to his car and left. I appreciate his concern but all he did was put the turtle in a place it didn’t want to be. I am grateful for anyone who goes out of their way to help an animal but always put the turtle or tortoise in their present direction of travel once you get it off the road. In this case, the turtle was heading towards the safety of our pond so that’s where I put it.
I recently heard that volunteers at the Naples Preserve are finding aquatic turtle species dead inside the preserve. Most recently a huge female spiny softshell turtle was killed by someone’s misdirected kindness. Spiny softshells and other turtles require water to survive of which the preserve has none. That turtle beat incredible odds to survive to maturity only to die a miserable death of exposure and dehydration. The preserve is fenced, she couldn’t get out. Tortoises, however, can survive inside Naples Preserve, turtles cannot, it’s just not the right habitat for them. And although gopher tortoises can survive inside the preserve there is a limited food source on that small eight acre property and the current tortoise population is at capacity. Adding more tortoises will only insure some will die of starvation. Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission if you see a gopher tortoise that is in need of relocation.
If you live here in south Florida you owe it to our local wildlife to know some basic information. Turtles are aquatic and generally have webbed feet and a lower profile shell. Our most common turtle species down here are the peninsular cooter, the redbelly cooter, the common snapping turtle and the aforementioned spiny softshell. An exception to the turtle rule is the box turtle that has a high domed shell. Box turtles don’t live in water like the others but still can be found near water. I have seen box turtles plowing through flooded prairies out in the Big Cypress. Good pictures of all these species are easily found on the internet.
The gopher tortoise, which is a protected animal, is our only tortoise species down here. Tortoises have a higher profile shell and their feet are actually pachyderm like in appearance. Tortoises can obtain all of their moisture from the vegetation they eat and do not require ponds or lakes for survival. It is illegal to remove a gopher tortoise from an area but you are permitted to move one off the road but remember to place it in its direction of travel, the tortoise has its own reason to be heading that way.
A million animals a day are killed on America’s roads so the tortoise or turtle probably appreciates your help. Thanks for being kind.