Death of largest gopher tortoise ever found draws notice to Florida live burial policy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2007

FORT MYERS, Fla.– Phoenix, the largest gopher tortoise
ever measured, at least 60 years old according to Gopher Tortoise
Conservation Initiative coordinator Sarah Shannon, died on April 28,
2007 in care of Amanda Ebenhack of South Florida Reptile Rescue.
Hit by a backhoe on a Fort Myers construction site, Phoenix
was left for dead and buried circa February 28. “Two weeks later,
he emerged and scared the crap out of all of them,” Ebenhack told
Kevin Lollar of the Fort Myers News-Press. “He was taken to another
rescue center, then to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I could
barely lift him. Nobody believed he was a gopher tortoise.”
Noted Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times, “For 16
years, Florida officials have let developers bury tortoises alive
and pave their burrows, in exchange for money to buy land for
tortoises elsewhere. Because of their low metabolic rate, tortoises
can take months to suffocate,” Pittman noted. “By this year, the
pay-to-pave program had issued permits to bury more than 94,000
tortoises. Now the species is in sharp decline. Tortoise experts
blame the permitting program. State wildlife officials have decided
to end the program by July 31, prompting a rush by developers to
beat the deadline,” Pittman added. “The permits have no expiration
date, so developers can use them at any time in the future. ”

Most notoriously, the Orlando-Orange County Express-way
Authority in early 2007 obtained a permit to kill more than 400
tortoises whose burrows were believed to be in the planned route of a
new highway.
Under pressure from the Humane Society of the U.S. the
Expressway Authority agreed to relocate the tortoises to a preserve
in the Florida Panhandle.

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