Digital First: Mississippi Military Department releases Gopher Tortoises

Pine Belt

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – The Mississippi Military Department announced the release of five adult-sized Gopher Tortoises from the Head Start Program into the Longleaf Pine habitat at Camp Shelby.

The program aims to create a supplement aging population of tortoises with offspring raised to a larger size than Gopher Tortoises usually grow. With this initiative, officials said the tortoises chances of survival are greatly increased once released back into the wild.

Gopher Tortoises are classified as a federally threatened state endangered species. They are protected by federal law under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Mississippi.

The program has worked with more than 400 tortoises since the start in 2006. Camp Shelby is in the middle of the Desoto Forrest and home to various wildlife.

The Gopher Tortoise (GT) Head Start Program was established by the Mississippi Military
Department through The Nature Conservancy in collaboration with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; United States Forest Service; Mississippi Natural Heritage Program; and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

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