The Humane Society of the United States, Nokuse Plantation, D.R. Horton Homebuilders, Bio-Tech Consulting and local volunteers have relocated about 100 threatened gopher tortoises from a 45-acre development site in Zellwood, Fla. The tortoises were moved from the Zellwood Station subdivision to a permanent home at Nokuse Plantation, a non-profit conservation area in Walton County.
Until 2007, the state did not require the relocation or removal of gopher tortoises prior to construction. The state's "incidental take" permit program permitted the destruction of more than 100,000 imperiled gopher tortoises. The tortoises were often buried alive, causing a slow and inhumane death for the animals.
Although developers with grandfathered "incidental take" permits are still not required by law to relocate tortoises, Texas-based D.R. Horton Homebuilders took steps to ensure the safe removal of tortoises from the Zellwood site before construction.
"The Humane Society of the United States applauds D. R. Horton for acting to save the tortoises who were living on this site," said Jennifer Hobgood, The HSUS' Florida state director. "We hope that other developers will follow D.R. Horton's lead and humanely relocate the other tortoises whose homes are threatened by construction projects."
With assistance from donations and a grant from a private foundation, The HSUS helped to fund the project and transport tortoises to Nokuse Plantation. Monitoring and assessing the tortoises after the relocation efforts will provide crucial information for future projects.
"We are very excited to receive the tortoises from the Zellwood Station site and commend D.R. Horton, local volunteers and The HSUS for working with us to save these animals," said Matthew J. Aresco, conservation director of Nokuse Plantation. "We will closely monitor the tortoises to ensure they acclimate well to their new home and will specifically manage their habitat so they will eventually be part of the breeding population."