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Encountering Endangered Reptiles

Hattiesburg students investigate the biology and behavior of a local endangered species.

Matt Hinderliter, Gopher Tortoise Biologist for The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi, has a job that potentially keeps him awake at night. He is one of a group of people who monitor, and even care for, the endangered gopher tortoise, a reptile that generally maxes out at about a foot in length and 10 pounds.

Recently, students from a Hattiesburg-area college and high school caught a glimpse into the life of this unique tortoise, who digs burrows utilized by up to 350 other species (though not all at once!). Students visited with Matt about these vegetarian reptiles, viewed some of their burrows, and even saw some of the tortoises in their burrows with a 25-foot burrow camera.

The students learned that the Conservancy is working to improve the number of adult tortoises in the wild using a process called head-starting. Eggs are removed from nests, and the hatchlings are allowed to develop in a protected environment until they are several years old. The juvenile tortoises are then re-released into the wild, with a better chance of survival due to their increased size.

Students also learned about the primary threats to tortoises and related species, particularly the loss of habitat. Learn how the Conservancy is helping other plants and animals at Camp Shelby.

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