GREAT FALLS — Earlier this month, a representative from Montana Reptile Rescue brought a rare gopher tortoise to the Region 4 office of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks in Great Falls.
Someone reportedly had been keeping the tortoise as an illegal pet.
After FWP identified it as a federally endangered species, they arranged to have the approximately 30-year old female shipped to Florida where she will live out her days at a sanctuary used for breeding.
FWP spokesman Dave Hagengruber said, "In this case, it's a great happy ending. Not always though, there are things that are exotic species, things like zebra mussels or feral hogs, that do a lot of damage. This is not one one of those, this is a good story."
Gopher tortoises are not native to Montana; their normal range is limited to Florida and southern areas of neighboring states.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service website states:
Gopher tortoises are dry-land turtles that usually live in relatively well-drained, sandy soils generally associated with longleaf pine and dry oak sandhills. They also live in scrub, dry hammock, pine flatwoods, dry prairie, coastal grasslands and dunes, mixed hardwood-pine communities, and a variety of habitats that have been disturbed or altered by man, such as power line rights-of-way, and along roadsides.
The website notes: "With their strong elephant-like back legs and front feet specialized for digging, they are well-adapted to burrowing. The burrows can vary from three to 52 feet long and nine to 23 feet deep. Their burrows also provide refuge for about 360 other species throughout its range."
According to the Montana Field Guide, there are no tortoise species native to Montana, and only three types of turtles that are native to Montana: pond turtles, snapping turtles, and softshell turtles.
FWP said if you know of animal being kept in Montana that may be an endangered species, you should call your nearest FWP office.