Largest recorded gopher tortoise dies
Posted by Miqe on May 3, 2007
A gopher tortoise named Phoenix, largest of its species on record, has died from injuries suffered at a Fort Myers construction site.
Phoenix’s carapace measured 16.41 inches from front to back and the animal weighed 31 pounds, 14 ounces when it arrived at South Florida Reptile Rescue in Okeechobee a month ago. Gopher tortoises — considered a species of special concern by the state — typically grow 9 to 11 inches long, but can reach 15 inches. They can weigh up to 15 pounds.
“It was on a construction site: They thought he was dead, so they buried him,” said Amanda Ebenhack, owner of South Florida Reptile Rescue. “Two weeks later, he emerged and scared the crap out of all of them.
“He was taken to another rescue center then to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I could barely lift it. Nobody believed it was a gopher tortoise. But I’m not stupid. I know what a gopher tortoise is.”
No one can say for certain how old was Phoenix, but Sarah Shannon, coordinator of the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative, estimated its age at 60 to 100 years.
“A lot of people think you can count the rings on the shell,” she said. “But a tortoise can put a couple of rings on the shell in a year or just one.”
Phoenix’s carapace was cracked, its spine was broken and a piece of shell was embedded in its lung.
Four days after receiving the tortoise, Ebenhack took it to Lake Howell Animal Clinic, where veterinarian Orlando Diaz treated it.
“The tortoise was very constipated, so Dr. Diaz gave it enemas,” Ebenhack said. “He tube fed it and did x-rays, all to get the tortoise going again, which he did.”
After two weeks, Phoenix was returned to Ebenhack.
The animal was never well enough to undergo surgery to remove the shell fragment from its lung.
“Knocking a tortoise out can be dangerous,” Ebenhack said. “It has to be in optimal health. A lot of tortoises don’t wake up.”
When the tortoise died Saturday, Ebenhack took it to the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative.
Phoenix will be mounted and put on exhibit in an as-yet undetermined museum.
“He is special,” Ebenhack said. “Too bad he didn’t live.”
From The News-Press