Gopher Tortoise Conservation Grant Awarded: Helping students come out of their shell for science
The Gulf Breeze Zoo recently awarded a 2019 Zoofari Parks Conservation Grant of $5,000 to the University of West Florida's Biology Department. The University's project manager, Dr. Phil Darby, will use the grant to protect a threatened local species, the gopher tortoise. UWF students have been particularly interested in this species because wild gopher tortoises are found living in and around the 1,600 acre campus.
In 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services named the eastern gopher tortoise as a threatened species, which means without intervention the species will be at risk of extinction, under the Endangered Species Act. The Zoo solicited and received grant applications from across the world, but when it came time to select a winner, CEO Eric Mogensen decided the best project was in our own backyard. "We wanted to help the little guy, who may otherwise have been overlooked for funding. We believe small things make a big difference, and the gopher tortoise is no exception. This conservation grant isn't just about a donation, it's about making a difference."
The grant awarded to UWF focuses on:
- Gopher tortoise monitoring using cameras to collect data
- Surveying land and identifying important habitat for the regional population
- Creating educational materials to raise awareness
- Supporting UWF biologists to attend the FFWCC sanctioned workshops
Many people don't realize this keystone species creates homes and shares their burrows with more than 350 other species, making it very important for the ecosystem. Gopher tortoise populations are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and human conflict for both the pet trade and human consumption. Partnering with the University has given the Zoo an opportunity to support students who care about local wildlife and can realistically create change. Working with these bright students has given new hope for the future of wildlife conservation and reminds us that there is always something new to learn. In this case: knowledge is power.