CAMP SHELBY, MS (WDAM) - The Mississippi Military Department, the Nature Conservancy and several state and federal agencies have teamed up to boost the numbers of endangered gopher tortoises at Camp Shelby and the DeSoto National Forest.
Wednesday, about 90 two-year old tortoises were released back into the wild in a restricted area of the national forest used by Camp Shelby.
The goal is to supplement the current aging population of gopher tortoises with younger ones that have a better chance of surviving in the wild.
They were hatched and raised at a nursery at the post's environmental office.
"Sexual maturity or the ability to reproduce is more an artifact of size than it is age, so if we can grow animals fast, perhaps we can get them to that reproductive age at a quicker rate." said Jim Lee, a biologist with The Nature Conservancy.
"We think we, without a doubt, lead by example, not only training soldiers but taking care of our endangered species that we have here in the Pine Belt," said Col. Bobby Ginn, commander of Camp Shelby.
The release is part of a program called Head-Start, which began in 2014.
Wednesday's release was the the fourth and largest for the program.
Each tortoise released was tagged with a number and will be monitored.