Crews save gopher tortoises from Apopka construction site

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APOPKA, Fla. - The Humane Society of the United States and wildlife experts are in the process of rescuing and moving some endangered gopher tortoises in Apopka Sunday.

About 25 gopher tortoises will be rescued through excavation of their underground burrows at The Meadows at Maudehelen development site on Scrub Jay and South Binion roads.

Flags across the site mark the spots where rescuers believe a tortoise is living underneath the ground.

Officials said the painstaking process could take several days.

“It can take from 30 minutes to three hours to excavate a single burrow. At the end of that excavation, there may or may not be a tortoise in the hole,” said Dave Pauli, with HSUS.

Channel 9’s Kenneth Craig was there as workers and volunteers found and rescued one tortoise after another.

Officials said the development site was permitted under an older state policy that would have allowed builders to crush or bury the animals alive in their burrows.

The developer, however, decided to work HSUS so the gopher tortoises wouldn’t be hurt during construction.

“In many properties where they either don’t have a permit or don’t follow FWC regulations, tortoises do get buried. And it’s truly horrific,” Pauli said.

Rescuing and moving each tortoise costs HSUS about $300 and a day of work costs them about $2,000.

It’s paid for with donations and grants, and officials said developers often donate as well.

“They’re accepting the opportunity to do the right thing and get these tortoises dug up and taken to a preserve,” Pauli said.

The tortoises will be taken to the Nokuse Plantation, a 50,000-acre nature preserve in the Florida panhandle.