New lawsuit aims to protect Florida's gopher tortoises: ‘We're killing them at an alarming rate’

Gopher tortoises are in trouble, and a new lawsuit is fighting for greater protection. The animal is being pushed out of its home with a surge in development and that could have lasting impacts on the ecosystem.

Wild Florida Rescue says they find injured gopher tortoises on the road and even in parking lots. They say the species is in danger and more needs to be done to protect the animal.

"The car strikes are unreal," said Heather Pepe who founded Wild Florida Rescue which is a non-profit committed to rescuing and rehabbing injured animals.

Pepe said car strikes are one-way gopher tortoises are killed. Others are buried alive when new developments trap them in their burrows.

"We’re particularly concerned about gopher tortoises here in Florida where we know development is booming and is forcing them out of their habitat," said Elise Bennett who’s a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Bennett is one of the lawyers bringing a new lawsuit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife. She says federal protections are needed to prevent gopher tortoise harassment or death and to create critical habitat protections for the animal.

On the ground, rescuers said more needs to be done to save the species.

The human impacts are catastrophic," Pepe added. "Many reports come in that somebody didn’t go out of their way to move, just plowed straight through the tortoise, so that’s really, really catastrophic on their survival, and we’re killing them at an alarming rate"

The species has lost more than 97% of its habitat, and its burrows support more than 360 other species. If these tortoises don’t make it, the entire ecosystem would be affected.