Field Trip to Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute
They keep the lights off and the temperature cool to simulate winter so the tortoises behave normally as if they were outside. It seems to work since they were all hunkered down and not trying to escape. We toured the nursery room in which several bins hold young Radiated Tortoises of different sizes. They remain in the nursery from hatching until they reach 150-200 grams and are too big to become lunch for crows and
other predators outside.
After reaching this threshold they get to live outside, unless the weather gets too cold. There is also a small incubator room where Leopard Tortoise eggs were hatching even as we watched. While the females will lay eggs outside, the hatching rate is very low and the few that do hatch rarely survive. Hatching and survival is much improved by incubating the eggs.
We had a quick look at the raised garden in which Chase grows vegetable for the tortoises. Some beds are in very large basins and some were in refrigerators which Chase acquired for free and hollowed out and drilled holes in to make a perfectly fine raised bed for the vegetables. He intends to plant native fruiting plants around the perimeter of the garden and the holding pens to supplement their diets.
We then piled into vehicles to tour the Preserve property as well as some of the adjacent property. Naturally it is all longleaf pine and scrub oak sand hill ecology. Chase has negotiated with some of the surrounding property owners to purchase the land or have the land designated as conservation easements. Ultimately he is trying to create a natural corridor from Goethe State Park to Watermelon Pond Wildlife Management Area.
There are roughly 500 gopher tortoises on the Preserve and the adjacent properties, all of which were hunkered down waiting until the temperatures rise to a reasonable 70° or so. If temperatures remain cold for extended periods the tortoises go into a hibernation-like stage called brumation. Gopher Tortoises are a keystone species and at least 411 other animal and insect species are known to use their burrows. Chase is fortunate to live in one of the facilities on the property. There is another facility for long term volunteers and researchers.
After our trip through the woods we returned to headquarters and took a quick look at a drift fence which is used for catching reptiles for collecting census data. This was an excellent trip. ABPRI does great work.
Ashton Biological Research and Preservation Institute, inc. (ABPRI) is a private, non-profit conservation area and research facility encompassing nearly 100 acres in North Central Florida. Information and a mission statement can be found at: https://ashtonbiodiversity.com/
Tours can be arranged and donations are always welcome.