Relocations of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) in Florida, USA, are frequently employed as mitigation tools when tortoises occupy land desired for development. Here we present information about retention and health of a relocated population of gopher tortoises 17 years after relocation. We combine our 17-year postrelocation data with earlier surveys 1 year and 2 years postrelocation to examine whether retention rates change over time. We also evaluate whether retention rates vary by age and gender. Of 74 gopher tortoises relocated in 1985, 31 were present in 2002. We found a 1-year retention rate of 42%, with retention rates of 100% each year thereafter, when we used the percentage of relocated individuals captured at each survey. We found a 1-year retention rate of 73%, a retention rate of 92% from year 1 to year 2, and an overall retention rate of 98.5% from year 2 through year 17, based on the assumption that all individuals present in later surveys were present in earlier surveys. We found no significant difference in retention rate over the 17-year period for adults and juveniles and for adult males and females. Relocated gopher tortoises showed natural growth patterns, indicating good health, but 35% of these gopher tortoises had ≥1 symptom of upper respiratory tract disease, a disease associated elsewhere with population declines of tortoises. Thus, retention rates of relocated gopher tortoises change over time, with relatively low retention during the first year postrelocation but nearly 100% retention in subsequent years. In general, our study shows that relocations can successfully lead to long-term retention of gopher tortoises, but we predict that without management (e.g., fire management and predator control) this relocated population is not viable.
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Vol. 71 • No. 3