Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 1:20
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

Emergency Prohibition against Importation of Two African Tortoises

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

SPECIFIC REASONS FOR FINDING AN IMMEDIATE DANGER TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY, AND WELFARE: Heartwater is an acute tick-borne disease of domestic and wild ruminants including cattle, sheep, goats and deer. This disease is caused by the rickettsial bacterium Cowdria ruminantium which is transmitted by the ticks of the genus Amblyomma. Animals or wildlife that contact this disease have a mortality rate of between 40-100%. There is no officially recognized treatment or vaccine for the disease other than to control the introduction of the tick vectors.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) recently notified the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) that 15 Ablyomma sparsum ticks collected from tortoises in Hillsborough County have tested positive for Cowdria ruminantium (Heartwater organism). Also, since 1997, nine reptile facilities in Florida have been found to have ticks capable of carrying Heartwater disease. The ticks primarily infect two African tortoises of the genus Geochelone, the African spurred or Sulcata tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) and the leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis). The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DASC) has also filed an emergency rule to deal with animals imported from countries where Heartwater disease is endemic and the FWCC emergency rule will parallel DACS efforts to control introduction of this disease though importation of tick-infected wildlife. The DACS rule asserts that “The introduction of the disease into Florida would be disastrous to the state’s beef and cattle industry and the state’s ruminant wildlife.”

Therefore, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, vested by Article IV, Section 9, Florida Constitution, with the state’s executive and regulatory authority over wildlife, finds that there is an immediate danger to the public welfare if immediate action is not taken to prohibit the importation of the African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) and the leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis). The Commission also finds that this limited action is the best means to address the emergency and is in the best interests of the citizens of the State of Florida. It is the intent of the Commission to begin regular rulemaking to adopt permanent rules addressing this problem...

A COPY OF THE EMERGENCY RULE MAY BE OBTAINED BY CONTACTING: James V. Antista, General Counsel, at the above adddress or call (850) 487-1764