Florida

This gopher tortoise is now the largest on Florida record. It could get even bigger

How the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission helps gopher tortoises

The gopher tortoise and its burrow are protected by state law.
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The gopher tortoise and its burrow are protected by state law.

A gopher tortoise admitted to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) in Sanibel is likely the largest on state record, according to wildlife officials.

The male Gopherus polyphemus weighed in at a hefty 33.6 pounds, and its shell measured over 17 inches long.

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CROW

The size of the former record holder?

Just shy of 32 pounds, with a shell 16.8 inches long, according to FWC conservation biologist Kelly O’Connor. That tortoise was observed near LaBelle in Hendry County in 2016.

The new record holder was checked into the wildlife hospital on Nov. 25 after rangers at Koreshan State Park noticed that it was lethargic and appeared to have diarrhea.

“He is definitely the biggest one I have ever seen,” says Heather Barron, medical and research director at CROW.

The center admits between 60 and 75 gopher tortoises each year, mostly due to encounters with vehicles on roadways, according to a press release.

If the tortoise’s health improves, it could get even bigger.

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CROW

“His body condition is really poor right now, so he’s quite thin compared to a healthy tortoise,” Barron said. “A healthy weight for him would be even higher.”

Barron estimates the gopher tortoise to be at least 50 years old, an age that many of its kind never reach. The species is listed as threatened in the state of Florida and is protected by the Endangered Species Act in some parts of the U.S.

“He was likely able to reach such a size, in part, due to the protected habitat where he resides within the state park,” according to CROW.

The public can visit CROW’s education center on Sanibel Island to learn more about what the rehabilitation facility does for Florida wildlife. Guided tours of the animal hospital are available with advanced registration.

Learn more at crowclinic.org.

Since March of 2016, 23 waif gopher tortoises have been relocated to Perico Preserve after they were plucked from the wild. If they were released, there's a possibility they would put themselves in danger on their way back to their burrow.

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