OLATHE, Kan. – The Olathe Animal Care and Control department received a call from a local resident on Aug. 31 saying she saw a strange critter near Water Works Park.
After investigating, it was determined that it was an endangered species of tortoise not native to Kansas.
Jo Patrick said she was walking her dog through her typical walking path when she stumbled upon what she believed to be a strange looking turtle.
She called the department and Officer Justin French went to the scene expecting to educate someone on the native turtles in the area, but was shocked when he realized how unique it was.
“When I arrived, it went a different way than I was expecting,” French said. “So, I decided to collect it and take it in to the shelter so we could identify which species it was.”
Animal Care and Control Supervisor Vickie Hudson took over the care for the animal and discovered that it was not a turtle, but in fact a tortoise and continued the investigation.
She determined it to be a gopher tortoise, which is the only one of five tortoise species in North America found east of the Mississippi River.
Hudson found that two of this kind of tortoise were also recently discovered in Abilene, Kansas and she reached out to help with relocation.
“I learned about a 1,600-acre preserve in South Carolina and we’re going to be able to send it down there,” Hudson said.
South Carolina is home to the Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve, managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
The 1,622-acre preserve is home to several rare and endangered species of gopher tortoise.
“When a tortoise is brought in, we create two-and-a-half acre pens that hold roughly 20 tortoises for their first year,” State Herpetologist Andrew Grosse said. “That allows them to regain a social structure, which we are finding out is really important for the species and also keeps them on the property, so they don’t wander off when they are released on the property.”
Currently, the preserve hosts 150-160 adult gopher tortoises.
“If you have that many adults, it’s probably a legitimate population that can persist into the future and not be impacted in a way that will destroy the population, if something like a disease outbreak were to happen,” Grosse said.