When people think of reptiles, they don't often think of women as being their protectors. Three central Florida women have changed that perception, as well as the fate of many threatened gopher tortoises.
According to Kim Titterington of Swamp Girl Adventures, an effective dream team for Central Florida's tortoise rescue and rehabilitation consists of Carissa Kent, Amanda Ebenhack and herself.
"All three of us do what we can to help the gopher tortoises survive," Titterington said. "Each of us has our own non-profit wildlife rescue and rehab organization. I've been doing this for more than 20 years --educating people about Florida wildlife and habitats."
This year alone, Titterington has rescued and released more than 20 gopher tortoises.
The trio of rescuers works with different wildlife organizations including the Florida Wildlife Commission. Occasionally, they get to work together. Each has their own niche. Carissa Kent works in overgrown fields or land cleared for development. There she and her crew literally dig the tortoises out of the ground by hand, where they've been buried alive. Many times the developers call her before they bulldoze. Kent has rescued more than 5,000 tortoises in the last nine years.
As for Amanda Ebenhack, she runs the Central Florida Wildlife Center. As a permitted wildlife rehabitator for gopher tortoises she's seen her share of hurt and wounded tortoises. A typical year at her wildlife center means 100-300 tortoises can be rehabbed.
"All of us have one thing in mind--the tortoise," Titterington said. "The first thing we do for any tortoise is to assess the injury and look for illnesses. People don't realize a cracked shell or even one leg missing -- doesn't mean a death sentence for the tortoise. We deal with veterinarians who specialize in turtles."
Each of these women have a common goal. Rescue, rehabilitate (if needed) and release back into the wild.
"Back into a natural surrounding where they will thrive," she said. "All tortoises deserve a chance. Every living creature is in this world together-- whether it be humans or tortoises.", said Titterington.
Swamp Girl Adventures can be reached at www.swampgirladventures.org
By Sharon G. Nichols, Senior Writer (edited by Trish Morgan)