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Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
23 February Issue

Save Rockledge's Gopher Tortoises
Source: John.E.Cielukowski@jci.com

Please voice your concerns to Rockledge City Hall 690-3978 and Florida Game and Fish Commission (352) 955-2330. Call Earl Jacobs if you can help 504-3668.

In March, the city of Rockledge plans to begin construction of phase one on their new community sports park where they plan to level 35 acres of pine flatwoods and bulldoze over 50 gopher tortoise burrows. The city plans to bury alive this large population of tortoises that will slowly suffocate or starve to death. Most of the tortoises are concentrated in a small area near the eastern border. No considerations were made in the design to protect the gopher tortoises and their habitat. Rockledge is now applying for an Incidental Take Permit that will legally allow them to destroy their natural habitat and kill the tortoises. The gopher tortoises cannot be relocated because they carry a common contagious infection known as Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, URTD. Glatting Jackson, the consulting and planning firm for the city, misled the Rockledge city council by telling them that URTD is fatal and compared it to AIDS. When in fact, the mortality rate is not known. URTD is a bacterial infection and gopher tortoises can recover from the illness. URTD is no justification for killing gopher tortoises.

The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) population has been reduced 80% in the last 100 years by rampant urbanization. In Florida it is listed as a "species of special concern". Ecologists consider it a keystone species because their large burrows provide shelter for over 358 species. Gopher tortoises can live 40 to 60 years. Rockledge needs to change it's plans for the park so that the tortoises and their habitat are preserved.

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