General FAQ

  • Where do tortoises occur?

    Gopher tortoises can occur in upland habitats throughout the coastal plain of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Their numbers have declined range-wide with populations severely reduced in the western and northern extent of their range.

  • Are tortoises State protected? Federally protected?

    Gopher tortoises are state protected throughout their range. Additionally, tortoises in Mississippi, Louisiana, and in Alabama (Mobile, Washington, and Choctaw counties) are federally listed on the Endangered Species Act.

  • When are tortoises active?

    Tortoises are active in the daytime during spring, summer, and fall seasons.

  • What type of habitat do tortoises use?

    Gopher tortoises are found in longleaf pine sandhills, xeric oak hammocks, scrub, pine flatwoods, dry prairies, and coastal dunes. Tortoises can also live in man-made environments, such as pastures, old fields, and grassy roadsides. Suitable habitat must have well-drained sandy soils (for digging burrows), herbaceous food plants, and open sunny areas for nesting and basking. Periodic natural fires play an important role in maintaining tortoise habitat by opening up the canopy and promoting growth of herbaceous food plants.

  • Why do tortoises dig burrows underground?

    The life of a gopher tortoise revolves around a tunnel-like burrow that can be up to 40ft in length and 10ft deep. Gopher tortoise burrows remain at a fairly constant temperature and humidity level year-round, thus providing shelter for the tortoise during periods of extreme temperatures, drought, and fire. Tortoise burrows also afford refuge to other animals including more than 360 animal species.

  • When/where do they lay their eggs?

    During May and June, female tortoises lay 3-15 eggs, either in the sandy mound in front of the burrow or in another nearby sunny place. The incubation period for eggs varies from 80 to 90 days in Florida to more than 100 days in Georgia and Alabama. A mature female generally produces one clutch of eggs annually. Nest predation can be quite high and an individual female may produce a successful nest as infrequently as once in 10 years. Nest predators include raccoons, foxes, skunks, armadillos, and fire ants.

  • What do tortoises eat?

    Gopher tortoises feed mainly on low-growing plants that require abundant sunlight. Although grasses and legumes make up the bulk of their diet, gopher tortoises eat a large variety of herbaceous plants including gopher apple, pawpaw, blackberries, saw palmetto berries, and other fruits. If you have gopher tortoises living on your property, landscaping with native plants will ensure that proper food is available. A link to a list of Gopher Tortoise forage plants can be found here.

  • What are the greatest threats to tortoises?

    Habitat loss, alteration, and degradation pose the most serious threat to the continued survival of the gopher tortoise. Upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) is a highly contagious disease that can also negatively affects tortoises. Other threats include the illegal harvest of tortoises, exotic invasive species, and high levels of nest and hatchling predation by raccoons, armadillos, and fire ants.

  • What is the mission of the Gopher Tortoise Council (GTC)?

    The Gopher Tortoise Council was formed in 1978 by a group of southeastern biologists and other citizens concerned with the decline of the gopher tortoise. The mission of the Council is ...

    1. to offer professional advice for management, conservation, and protection of gopher tortoises;
    2. to encourage the study of the life history, ecology, behavior, physiology, and management of gopher tortoises and other upland species;
    3. to conduct active public information and conservation education programs;
    4. to seek effective protection of the gopher tortoise and other upland species throughout the southeastern United States.
  • How can I make a request for GTC to present at my event?

    Requests can be made through the Contact Us page of our website.

  • When is Gopher Tortoise Day? Where can I get more information?

    April 10th was officially adopted by the Gopher Tortoise Council as Gopher Tortoise Day! The goal of Gopher Tortoise Day is to increase awareness and appreciation for these long lived, gentle reptiles. You can help celebrate by hosting an event in your community, asking your local City or County Commission to officially adopt April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day, and by educating others on the importance of protecting gopher tortoises.

  • How can I get involved with GTC?

    There are a number of ways to get involved with GTC:

    1. Support GTC by joining our membership or providing a donation here,
    2. Attend our annual GTC meeting to learn about new research and management of tortoises and other upland species,
    3. Participate in Gopher Tortoise Day in your community,
    4. Consider volunteering for our organization by joining a GTC committee.
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Georgia FAQ

  • What do I do if I find a tortoise on my property?

    If the tortoise is not using a burrow on your property, then it's probably just passing through. If it is using a burrow: Congratulations! Gopher tortoises generally make good neighbors and very rarely cause problems for landowners. Enjoy observing the tortoise, but make sure children or pets don't harass it. Don't be too concerned if the tortoise seems to "disappear," since most tortoises use more than one burrow in the course of a year. Just leave the burrow intact, and the same tortoise or a different one may re-occupy it. If you believe a tortoise may be in danger or cause damage, there are online resources (such as the Gopher Tortoise Council website) with suggestions for how to address common issues. If you can't find information about your specific concern, or believe the tortoise may need to be relocated, please contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at 912-314-0128. Gopher tortoises are protected by state law in Georgia, so it's illegal to capture or relocate one on your own.

  • What do I do if someone is observed harming a tortoise or a destroying a burrow?

    Gopher tortoises are considered a threatened species in Georgia, so state law prohibits deliberately harming them or maliciously damaging their burrows. If you observe a tortoise being intentionally harmed, contact the Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Ranger Hotline at 1-800-241-4113. Keep in mind that Georgia law does not prohibit otherwise lawful activities, such as timber harvesting, mowing, etc., which may incidentally harm tortoises or their burrows. However, there are often simple ways to reduce the chances that tortoises will be negatively impacted by these activities. Suggestions can be found on the Georgia DNR website: Georgiawildlife.com under “Landowner Resources”.

  • What to do if tortoises are located on an undeveloped lot that soon will be developed?

    Depending on the exact development plans, it may be possible for tortoises to remain where they are. In other cases, Georgia DNR may be able to arrange for tortoises to be relocated. Please call DNR at 912-314-0128 to discuss the situation.

  • Who do I contact about live/dead tortoise observations?

    Georgia DNR does not have sufficient resources to maintain records of all gopher tortoise observations. However, if you observe a number of dead tortoises in the same area, it may indicate that a problem, such as a disease outbreak or road mortality, is affecting the local population. If you notice this situation, or have other unusual tortoise observations (for example, a gopher tortoise observed outside the species natural range) please contact DNR at 912-314-0128.

  • What do I do if I find an injured tortoise?

    Please contact Georgia DNR at 912-314-0128. If possible provide photos of the injured tortoise. Depending on the circumstances, DNR may help arrange for the tortoise to be treated by a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.

  • Can I keep a tortoise as a pet? Can I keep a shell?

    Georgia law prohibits keeping most native wildlife species as pets, including gopher tortoises. The law also generally prohibits possessing parts of protected non-game wildlife, such as tortoise shells. For information about the special permits needed to exhibit wildlife for educational purposes, contact the Georgia DNR Special Permits Unit at 770-918-6408.

  • I found a tortoise with no burrow close by and/or crossing a road. What do I do?

    In most cases, the tortoise lives somewhere in the larger area and knows where it is trying to go. Tortoises have been documented walking a mile or more when traveling between burrows or seeking a mate! So, unless the tortoise is in immediate danger, it's almost always best not to interfere with its movements. It is acceptable to help a tortoise cross a road, if you can do this safely. As with other turtles, move a tortoise in the direction it was already traveling.

  • How can I help tortoises in my state? community?

    There are many ways! You've already taken the first step by educating yourself about gopher tortoises and the challenges they face. Share what you've learned with others, or use it to create or improve tortoise habitat on your land. You could also join the Gopher Tortoise Council and volunteer to help educate others at events in your area. In Georgia, The Wildlife Conservation Section of the Department of Natural Resources has the primary responsibility for conservation of non-game wildlife, like the gopher tortoise. Donations from the public are one of it's primary funding sources. Visit https://georgiawildlife.com/donations for details on how to support it. Funds or volunteer time are also appreciated by other non-profits that are involved in conserving tortoises in Georgia. These include: The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, The Orianne Society, The Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center, and many others.

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Florida FAQ

  • What do I do if I find a tortoise on my property?

    Residential communities with open, grassy areas can provide suitable habitat for local gopher tortoises. If you have a tortoise or a tortoise burrow on your property, the best course of action is to leave them alone. Tortoises are a harmless part of nature and can coexist with humans in suburban habitats. Use care when mowing near a tortoise burrow to prevent accidental collapse and use a hand trimmer if you must cut the vegetation immediately surrounding the burrow. Be especially aware of juvenile/hatchling tortoises outside of their burrows when mowing, and practice responsible pet ownership to prevent accidental injury to tortoises.

    Visit the FWC’s Education Corner webpage for additional resources including gopher tortoises in urban areas, gopher tortoise and dog safety, and gopher tortoises and road safety fact sheets. For additional questions, please contact FWC at 850-921-1030.

  • What do I do if someone is observed harming a tortoise or a destroying a burrow?

    Gopher tortoises and their burrows are both protected under Florida law. If you observe someone harming a tortoise or its burrow, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922. FWC will dispatch an officer to investigate. If a permit is posted on a development site where you believe illegal activity is occurring, call your local Gopher Tortoise Conservation Biologist.

  • What to do if tortoises are located on an undeveloped lot that soon will be developed?

    The FWC will take preventative action by sending an informational letter and educational materials to the landowner. Contact FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Program at 850-921-1030 for guidance. You’ll be asked to provide an address for the site (or closest to it) and documentation of burrows or tortoises on the property (e.g., photographs with GPS coordinates of their locations), if available. Do not trespass or conduct any illegal activity to obtain this information. A good photo will clearly show the burrow entrance and apron and include distinctive features of the property to confirm the location of the burrows. If burrows have been documented and reported to the FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Program but you observe signs of imminent disturbance (e.g., heavy equipment on site, installed silt fence, etc.), check out FWC’s Online Permit Locator Map or contact the FWC at 850-921-1030 to determine if a permit was obtained. Call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922 if no FWC gopher tortoise relocation permit has been issued but disturbance is imminent. Inform dispatch that you have already provided documentation of burrows on site to FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Program. FWC will dispatch an officer to investigate.

  • Who do I contact about live/dead tortoise observations?

    Become a citizen scientist! Report observations of gopher tortoises to FWC’s free Florida Gopher Tortoise app. With this app, you can record the location of gopher tortoises you see in your yard, neighborhood, or crossing the road. This information will help FWC biologists better understand where populations of gopher tortoises live.

    Report observations of dead tortoises to FWC’s mortality web application and provide information on cause of mortality, if known. Please report mortalities suspected to be caused by illegal activities to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922.

  • What do I do if I find a sick or injured tortoise?

    Contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian for guidance during business hours. After business hours, contact an emergency veterinarian for guidance. Provide location information to ensure the tortoise can be returned to its burrow after treatment. For a list of local rehabilitators, call FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Program weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 850-921-1030.

  • Can I keep a tortoise as a pet? Can I keep a shell?

    Permits for possession of gopher tortoises or its shells are issued only when the tortoise will be used for educational or research purposes. Permits are not issued to allow people to keep tortoises as pets. Possession and transport of gopher tortoises without authorization is a violation of Florida law. Officers will write citations if they find people in possession of this species without a permit.

  • I found a tortoise with no burrow close by and/or crossing a road. What do I do?

    Tortoises often dig burrows and forage for food on open, sunny roadsides. Vehicle collisions are a major contributor to tortoise injuries and death. If you see a tortoise in the roadway, you can move it across the road in the direction it was headed. Do not take the tortoise to a different area and never put your life in danger to move a tortoise. Tortoises are listed as a threatened species and relocating tortoises (e.g., putting them in your car) without a permit is illegal and could spread disease. Visit the FWC’s Education Corner webpage for additional resources including gopher tortoises and road safety and upper respiratory tract disease fact sheets. For additional questions, please contact FWC at 850-921-1030.

  • How can I help tortoises in my state? community?

    There are many ways you can help tortoises in Florida. In your yard, consider creating a tortoise friendly garden (see A Guide to Gopher Tortoise Friendly Plants), practicing responsible pet ownership, and using care when tending to your lawn near tortoises and their burrows.

    To help tortoises in your community, consider volunteering with the FWC or a local nature center. You can also host an event to educate your community about the importance of gopher tortoises and other wildlife. Although these events commonly highlight Gopher Tortoise Day (April 10th each year), events can be done year-round to benefit this important keystone species! See GopherTortoiseDayFL.com for more ideas on how to host an event. Check out FWC’s How You Can Help webpage to learn more about how to help tortoises in your yard and in your community.

    For more information on gopher tortoises in Florida, visit MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise.

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Alabama FAQ

  • What is the status of the gopher tortoise in Alabama?

    As might be expected, gopher tortoise populations have had a similar fate as has the species habitat. The extent of the longleaf pine ecosystem in the southeastern United States has been reduced to less than three million acres, a small fraction of its former range. The rolling savannah-like world of the southeastern coastal plain is, for the most part, gone, and gopher tortoise populations are estimated to have declined by at least 80% in the last hundred years. The gopher tortoise is currently federally listed as threatened west of the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers (Mobile, Washington, and Choctaw counties, MS, LA) and eastern populations (in AL east of the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers, FL, GA, SC) are currently being considered for federal listing. Gopher tortoises are considered a species of high conservation concern in Alabama and are and are protected by law from killing or capture.

  • What do I do if I find a tortoise on my property?

    Having a gopher tortoise living in your yard or on your property is a great opportunity to learn more about this unique species. Do not block the entrance to the burrow, fence it in, or otherwise impede the animal’s movements. It is illegal to possess a gopher tortoise without a permit or to have a gopher tortoise as a pet. Do not allow children or pets to disturb the tortoise or its burrow. If possible, avoid mowing, digging, driving over or otherwise disturbing the area right around the burrow. Trimming of grass or weeds right around the burrow can be done using a weed trimmer. Do not drive over the burrow, as this could cause the burrow to collapse and entomb the tortoise.

  • What do I do if someone is observed harming a tortoise?

    If you are observing someone harming a gopher tortoise then you should immediately contact Operation GameWatch. Gopher tortoises are a state protected species in the eastern portion of their AL range and federally protected in Mobile, Washington, and Choctaw counties. Operation GameWatch is a program designed to stop wildlife and fish law violators in Alabama. Citizen involvement is and always has been the key to its success. Please report poachers and wildlife violators and help protect Alabama's natural resources. Call 1-800-272-GAME (4263) to report wildlife violators. Calling is easy, fast and completely confidential!

    The more information, the better. Try to provide the following information if you can:

    • Name and description of suspects
    • Vehicle or boat description if applicable
    • License plate or boat registration number if applicable
    • Clothing description
    • Time of your observation
    • Area being poached or where violation is occurring
    • Patterns you observed
  • What to do if tortoises are located on an undeveloped lot that soon will be developed?

    In Alabama, only the gopher tortoise itself is protected by the Protected Nongame Species Regulation 220-2-.92. If a tortoise is found on someone else’s property, meaning not the property you own, there really is not much we can do since the tortoise’s burrow is not protected by regulation in the eastern portion of the Alabama range. However, if the burrow is in Mobile, Washington, or Choctaw counties where the gopher tortoise is under federal protection, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Ecological Services Office in Daphne at 251.441.5181. With that being said, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, Nongame Wildlife Program wants to partner with landowners / developers to find solutions where both the landowner and tortoise benefit creating a conservation success story.

  • Who do I contact about live/dead tortoise observations?

    Join the citizen science project as found in iNaturalist. The purpose of this project is to collect location information on the gopher tortoise to help supplement current surveying efforts and enhance our understanding of the distribution of gopher tortoises in Alabama. Each observation should be documented using iNaturalist with a “research grade “ observation (i.e. property identified, photo or audio vouchered). To increase the value of your observations, please indicate the spatial accuracy and include additional comments. Ideally, we would like data on how many individuals were observed, evidence of reproduction, condition and extent of habitat, and any potential threats in the area.

    If you have specific questions call the Alabama DCNR, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Nongame Wildlife Program at 334.242.3469.

  • What do I do if I find an injured tortoise?

    Do not try to care for the tortoise yourself. If the tortoise is ill, do not attempt to relocate it as this could spread disease to other tortoises and puts the animal under stress. If you find an injured gopher tortoise, you should locate a wildlife rehabilitator that accepts turtles by visiting Outdoor Alabama. This list is updated as new permits are reviewed and approved. In Alabama, Wildlife Rehabilitators are specifically permitted by the Alabama DCNR, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to care for native game and nongame animals with the goal of eventual release. Wildlife rehabilitators provide a service for the public by prescribing an appropriate and humane course of action for wildlife in need. It is your responsibility to get the animal to the rehabilitator. If you have questions call 334.242.3469.

  • Can I keep a tortoise as a pet? Can I keep a shell?

    No, you cannot keep a gopher tortoise as a pet in Alabama. Gopher tortoises are state protected (Protected Nongame Species Regulation 220-2-.92) in the eastern portion (east of the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers) and federally protected (Threatened under the Endangered Species Act) in Mobile, Washington, and Choctaw counties.

    As for the shell, you cannot be in possession of a gopher tortoise shell without a permit from Alabama DCNR, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Nongame Wildlife Program. If you have questions call 334.242.3469 and ask to be transferred to protected species permitting.

  • I found a tortoise with no burrow close by and/or crossing a road. What do I do?

    If you find a lone gopher tortoise in an area, within the species Alabama range and after brief inspection you do not notice a burrow near the tortoise then it is best to leave it be. Tortoises can travel long distances in search of favorite food and mates and are best left alone as it could also be headed back to its burrow. Both small and large gopher tortoise burrows are sometimes difficult to see from a quick glance as they can be covered by plants like grasses, blackberries, palm fronds, etc. making it difficult to detect.

    If you find a tortoise crossing a road, you can help it across by placing it in the direction that it was headed. If you try to move it to the side that it came from or to a new location, it will most likely try to cross the road again to get back to where it was. Never put yourself or others in danger trying to help a tortoise across a busy road.

  • How can I help tortoises in my state? community?

    Gopher tortoises can be common in suburban areas in southern Alabama. If a gopher tortoise is living in your yard, take the opportunity to learn about a protected species, how to conserve it, and share the information with family, friends, and neighbors. Here are a few tips:

    • Gopher tortoises graze naturally on a wide variety of plants, including broadleaf grasses, wiregrass, prickly pear cactus, wild grape, blackberry, blueberry, beautyberry and many more.
    • They generally feed within 160 feet of their burrows but have been known to travel more than twice that distance to meet their foraging and nutritional needs.
    • Grow plants native to Alabama in your yard, since nonnative plants can be harmful to Alabama’s biodiversity. Many native plants will blend in beautifully with your landscaping and attract other native species of birds and butterflies. 
    • Leave the tortoise alone and keep dogs and children away from the tortoise and its burrow.
    • If possible, avoid mowing, digging, driving over or otherwise disturbing the area right around the burrow. Trimming of grass or weeds right around the burrow can be done using a weed trimmer.
    • Never block the burrow opening which could prevent the tortoises exit or entrance.
    • Join a citizen science project … iNaturalist project. The purpose of this project is to collect location information on the gopher tortoise to help supplement current surveying efforts and enhance our understanding of the distribution of gopher tortoises in Alabama.
    • Each observation should be documented using iNaturalist with a “research” grade observation (i.e. property identified, photo or audio vouchered). To increase the value of your observations, please indicate the spatial accuracy and include additional comments. Ideally, we would like data on how many individuals were observed, evidence of reproduction, condition and extent of habitat, and any potential threats in the area.
    • Visit the Alabama Gopher Tortoise Project page and the Gopher Tortoise Resource page.
    • Host a Gopher Tortoise Day at work, in your community, or school to increase awareness (Gopher Tortoise Day is April 10 th or the week of April 10th annually)
    • Support Alabama DCNR, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries programs and land acquisitions to protect and conserve wildlife habitat.
    • Purchase a Natural Heritage License. License monies are used to manage and conserve wildlife habitat including gopher tortoise habitat.
    • If you fill out tax forms and are due a refund, check the Nongame Tax Check-off box. Again, these monies are used to manage and conserve wildlife habitat including gopher tortoise habitat.
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South Carolina FAQ

  • What do I do if I find a tortoise on my property?

    The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources would like to know if you find a gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoises are listed as endangered in SC and only found in xeric, sandy habitats in the southern portion of the coastal plain. If you find a gopher tortoise, please take a photo, document the location and contact Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

  • What do I do if someone is observed harming a tortoise or a destroying a burrow?

    Gopher tortoises are listed as endangered and protected in South Carolina. If you see these activities please call 1-800-922-5431 to report an emergency or contact Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

  • What to do if tortoises are located on an undeveloped lot that soon will be developed?

    Gopher tortoises are protected in South Carolina and any capture or removal requires a permit. If you have any questions please contact Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

  • Who do I contact about live/dead tortoise observations?

    Please take a photo, document the location and contact Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

  • What do I do if I find an injured tortoise?

    Please take the individual to the nearest vet or animal hospital so the tortoise can receive immediate attention. Contact Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

  • Can I keep a tortoise as a pet? Can I keep a shell?

    No, gopher tortoises are state listed as endangered in South Carolina and tortoises and their parts are not permitted to be kept without a permit issued by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

  • I found a tortoise with no burrow close by and/or crossing a road. What do I do?

    If you can move it safely, move the tortoise from the roadway to the shoulder of the road in the direction it was facing. In South Carolina, gopher tortoises are only found in the southern portion of the coastal plain. Depending on your location, we may need to relocate the individual. Please take a photo, document the location and contact Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

  • How can I help tortoises in my state? community?

    Gopher Tortoises are listed as endangered and limited to the southern portion of the coastal plain in South Carolina. Despite their limited range in SC, occasionally, gopher tortoises show up in new locations. Please report any gopher tortoise sightings to Andrew Grosse, State Herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (843) 527-8448.

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