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Gopher Tortoise Day will be here faster than you think in Lehigh Acres

The East Lee Wildlife Stewardship Group along with the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium got the Lee County Board of Commissioners to recognize April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day.
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Posted at 9:58 PM, Apr 03, 2024

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — Lawn work or construction plans in the future? Be sure to check your property for gopher tortoises. It's not hard to pass by shrubs and bushes that can actually be a home for gopher tortoises.

The threatened species is protected under Florida law. People across Southwest Florida like James Kennedy work on preserving the species and now have a day dedicated to the animal.

Kennedy said, "When I was in the 7th grade, I was doing a science project on it, and one of the first pictures I took of something living in a burrow other than a gopher tortoise was a four-foot long alligator."

That started his love for the species and eventually why he started the East Lee Wildlife Stewardship Group.

"They're almost like a landlord," Kennedy described since so many other animals call the tortoise burrows home as well.

They may not move fast, but he said it's time to pay attention to the threatened gopher tortoises.

He said, "Take a step toward recognizing it in Lee County especially with the explosive growth that we are seeing because of their habitat choice, they are extremely vulnerable to all the development we are seeing."

The burrows can be hard to see and blend in easily to foliage.

Counties across Florida have set aside April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day, so Kennedy partnered with the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium to get it approved in Lee County.

Interm Executive Director at the center Dr. Cindy Banyai said she didn't question the request.

"I said yeah, absolutuely. Let's do it," she said.

Dr. Banyai continued, "We can encourage our development community, and folks who are selling homes folks, who are building and rebuilding for them to help us be good stewards of the environment."

Gopher tortoises play a vital role in the ecosystem since they provide a food source for other animals, eat pests and provide homes to other species according to Dr. Banyai.

Banyai said, with the help of County Commissioner Brian Hamman, the two officially convinced Lee County to recognize April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day.

"It's extremely important here in Lee County that we do a better job of recognizing and protecting what we got," Kennedy said.

If you want to learn more about preserving the species, or report one on your property as well as additional information, find FWC resources here.

In celebration, on April 10, the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium will partner with East Lee Wildlife Stewardship Group to show a movie on the gopher tortoises in Florida. Find more information on the event here.