GULF BREEZE — The Gulf Breeze Zoo recently awarded a 2019 Zoofari Parks Conservation Grant of $5,000 to the University of West Florida’s Biology Department.


The University’s Project Manager, Dr. Phil Darby, will use the grant to protect a threatened local species, the gopher tortoise. UWF students have been particularly interested in this species because wild gopher tortoises are found living in and around the 1,600 acre campus.


In 2007, Florida Fish and Wildlife Services named the eastern gopher tortoise as a threatened species, which means without intervention the species will likely become endangered in the foreseeable future.


The Zoo solicited and received grant applications from across the world, but when it came time to select a winner CEO Eric Mogensen decided the best project was in the Zoo’s own backyard.


“We wanted to help a local cause, who may otherwise have been over-looked for funding,” Mogensen said. “We believe small things make a big difference, and the gopher tortoise is no exception. This conservation grant isn’t just about a donation, it’s about making a difference.”


Many people don’t realize this keystone species creates homes and shares their burrows with more than 350 other species, making it very important for the ecosystem. Gopher tortoise populations are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and human conflict for the pet trade.


The grant awarded to the University of West Florida focuses on:


⦁ Gopher tortoise monitoring using cameras to collect data


⦁ Surveying land and identifying important habitat for the regional population


⦁ Creating educational materials to raise awareness


⦁ Support UWF Biologists to attend the FFWCC sanctioned workshops


The Zoo celebrated with the university team by inviting them to the Zoo to meet another threatened species, the Galapagos tortoise.


“Partnering with the University has given the Zoo an opportunity to support students who care about local wildlife and can realistically create change,” said Conservation Coordinator Katy Massey. “Working with these bright students has given new hope for the future of wildlife conservation.”


The Gulf Breeze Zoo is home to more than 900 exotic animals. The Zoo supports wildlife conservation in more than 25 countries globally through financial aid, public education, captive breeding, and habitat preservation. The Zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is just off U.S. Highway 98. Visit www.GBZoo.com for event updates, seasonal hours, and more.