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Today is May 10, 2021

Endangered Gopher Tortoises released into the wild at Camp Shelby

Endangered Gopher Tortoises released into the wild at Camp Shelby

The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi recently released 94 gopher tortoises into the wild at Camp Shelby as part of an initiative to restore populations of this threatened species. The tortoises have become a threatened species mainly due to the degradation of their habitat and the susceptibility that presents to predators. TNC collaborated with the Mississippi Military Department, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Mississippi Natural Heritage Program, and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

As part of the organization’s larger Longleaf Pine efforts across southern Mississippi and much of the southeast, TNC is utilizing prescribed fire techniques to help conserve and restore the gopher tortoise habitat. The tortoises are being released into those portions of the Longleaf pine forest that have been restored and already contain colonies of adult tortoises.

The vast majority of these tortoises being released were reared in a controlled environment at Camp Shelby to encourage faster growth. When they reach a certain size, which is around two years of age they are less likely to be eaten by a predator and more likely to survive to adulthood.

Jim Lee, a biologist with The Nature Conservancy said, “In the past, we’ve released those animals at age two of being ‘head started’ and we’ve released so far 400 animals of that size class, and we’ve had relatively good success so far with 70% survivorship,” Lee said. “We’re going to release them with radio transmitters and see how well that they do. The thought is that we could potentially create a population which will be 250 adults if this is a successful method.” 

“This is one of the critical steps in fully restoring the longleaf pine forests in Mississippi. The role that this iconic species plays in the Longleaf forest cannot be overstated, because the gopher tortoise burrows alone provide habitat for over 370 different other species native to this forest. Hence the reason gopher tortoise is called a ‘keystone’ species for the longleaf ecosystem,” said Alex Littlejohn, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi.

The Nature Conservancy has released more than 400 gopher tortoises into the wild and is making real progress in restoring the species and its habitat.


Since 1965, The Nature Conservancy has been working to conserve lands and waters in Mississippi that have provided a sense of place and connection to our natural heritage for many generations. TNC has played a key role in protecting and restoring some of our most iconic landscapes, totaling over 150,000 acres across the state. Together, we are making a measurable, lasting difference in Mississippi.




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