Gopher Tortoise Day at Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area has become an annual signature event to inform the public about and celebrate the importance of the gopher tortoise as a keystone species. Split Oak Forest was set aside in the mid 1990’s specifically to mitigate for, protect, and preserve gopher tortoise habitat in the fast growing Central Florida region.
Vice-Mayor Frohike signs the Proclamation (with non-toxic water soluble green paint and expert handling by Kim Titterington of Swamp Girl Adventures). Mayor Sheldon was a bit under the weather and fortunately, Vice-Mayor Frohike was on call to perform the ceremony.
Sharing information about the anticipated impacts to this property from the Osceola Parkway Extension (a proposed toll road planned through Split Oak Forest) provides an excellent (albeit disturbing) opportunity to educate attendees about major threats to the gopher tortoise: habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation of their habitat.
Attendees visit a few of the learning and activity stations.
For 2023, Friends of Split Oak Forest were able to foster appreciation for the gopher tortoise and this meticulously managed habitat through hands-on and direct interactions with wildlife, subject matter experts, habitat managers, native plant experts, hiking opportunities, fun art activities, games, prizes, buttons, tattoos, stickers, and take home information to stimulate further learning.
Wow…snakes are cool. Junior Hiker enjoys getting up close and personal with Elvira, an Eastern Indigo snake (educational animal handled by Swamp Girl Adventures).
They say that a photo is worth a thousand words, but photos with captions are even better. Here are some of the highlights of Gopher Tortoise Day 2023 at Split Oak Forest. All photo credit in this article goes to Vincent Zuniaga. Thank you Gopher Tortoise Council for supporting efforts to inspire our next generations to learn about, love and protect gopher tortoises.
First shift of dignitaries with Vice-Mayor Frohike just having signed the Proclamation. From left to right: Top row-Dave Wegman (VP Friends of Split Oak Forest); David Turner (Site Manager, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission); Vala Titterington, Victor Mallo and Calla Titterington (Swamp Girl Adventures); Phillip deToledo (representing Orange County Commissioner Maribel Gomez-Cordero); Front row-Kim Titterington and Vice-Mayor Frohike (Swamp Girl Adventures); Mary Nesler (Director Friends of Split Oak Forest), Commissioner Peggy Choudhry (Osceola County) with Proclamation.
Budding scientist studies gopher tortoise anatomy while contemplating her art.
Outreach team catches a gopher tortoise photo op on their way to the office. Darren Vierday of US Congressman Darren Soto’s Office, Eric Rollings and Lee Perry of Carlos Guillermo Smith’s crew share environmental concerns over habitat loss.
Little artist deep in the creative mode.
Gopher Tortoise art activity awaits for all age groups.
Kay Hudson (left) and Cindy Haas (right) of League of Women Voters, Orange County Natural Resource Committee (art activity sponsors) showing their support.