In the last year, 13 state-protected gopher tortoises were killed for food in the area of the county’s 111-acre Wabasso Scrub Conservation Area on County Road 510, county conservation lands manager Beth Powell said Wednesday.
Late Tuesday their shells were found scattered on a quarter-acre vacant lot, on 61st Drive, bordering the conservation area.
They showed evidence of either being hit or shot.
“They are eating them,” Powell said. “They pried the shells open and cleaned them out,” she said. No other remains were found.
Most were killed in the past six months but a few of the deaths may date back a year.
Both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Humane Society of the United States are offering rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of who is responsible, official said.
It is illegal to kill or molest the animals. Violations are punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and five years in state prison, state officials said.
“It doesn’t appear we have a lot (of evidence) to move ahead with, so we need public input” to find who was responsible, said Rick Brown, an investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We need help.”
Tortoise poaching occurs occasionally throughout Florida, state officials say. The animals have been eaten since prehistoric times.
A private environmental consultant found the remains about 4 p.m. Tuesday while checking the lot that the Habitat for Humanity is considering donating to the county, Powell said.
If not for the consultant checking the land, the shells may have gone undiscovered, officials said.
The Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County took the empty shells that Powell said were all from adults and many were around 20 years old.
In the past six months, the county began using the conservation area for relocating gopher tortoises displaced by development. Powell has no evidence that any relocated tortoises were killed, she said.
Counts of the number of tortoises in the conservation area have been done only in the northwest one-third where about 25 of the animals are believed to be living in 50 burrows. The tortoises dig underground burrows as shelters.
“This is the worst case of gopher tortoise poaching that I have ever found in 10 years of working as the conservation lands manager for Indian River County,” Powell said. “It is extremely disheartening. The impact of this is terrible.”
The county purchased the conservation area in 1995 to help protect the tortoises that tend to live in higher dry areas preferred for housing and commercial developments.
Rewards for information
Up to $3,500 in rewards are being offered for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of who killed gopher tortoises from around the county’s Wabasso Scrub Conservation Area. The rewards are:
— $2,500 from the Humane Society of the United States. Details of who to call wasn’t available Wednesday.
— $1,000 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Call the state’s Wildlife Alert line at 1-888-404-3922. Calls may be made anonymously.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County.
Article via TCPalm | 9 December 2009 |