Cause for ConcernThe Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) is the smallest of four North American tortoise species. Its distribution in the United States is limited to the lower Texas plain from Brownsville to south of San Antonio and westerly to the east side of the Big Bend area.
Historically, this tortoise was more abundant and associated with drier scrub and thorn-brush habitats throughout its range. By the mid-20th century, populations were in decline in many areas (Rose and Judd). The combination of increasing habitat-loss and documented declines in tortoise range and density, led to increased interest and concern for the species.
Consequently, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department initially listed the Texas tortoise as a Texas state species-of-concern. Then, in 1982, it raised the tortoise’s listing to threatened species status (Rose and Judd).
Doctors use thermometers, X-rays, and MRIs to check the health of their patients. At Palo Alto, researchers rely on tortoises to monitor the natural health of the park. Every six months since 2008, the park's natural resource specialist, Gulf Coast Network staff, other partners, and volunteers have combed the brush and prairies of Palo Alto. Their goal is to locate, mark, and track Texas tortoises living in the park.
Monitoring Texas Tortoises at Palo Alto
The Gulf Coast Network began development of the tortoise monitoring project in 2008 in collaboration with Drs. K. Buhlmann and T. Tuberville of the University of Georgia–Savannah Ecological Laboratory (SREL). Sampling to date has revealed tortoises are widely distributed within the best available habitat areas across the park.
Animals, including feral pigs that have taken up residence on the battlefield, are a real threat to Texas tortoises. The busy roads bordering the park also present a deadly obstacle for tortoises leaving and entering the park. The park has put up tortoise-proof fencing along portions of the boundary to reduce this hazard.
Last updated: April 10, 2019