Moccasin Woods Animal Refuge is a non-profit 501(c)(3) Florida charity providing help, homes, or habitats for wild and domestic animals in need of care or attention.
We don’t just help unwanted and abandoned animals, we provide them with dignity and a purpose. As we work to restore the natural habitats of Moccasin Woods, the animals who share this space help us manage the land, they bring back the missing ecological roles of Pleistocene-era ecological engineers, and they represent our attempts to bring back rare or recently-extirpated species. Our companions also serve as ambassadors, highlighting the harm done to animals through the pet and agriculture industries while showing there is a better path to living alongside animals, both wild and domestic.
Our 8+ acres includes natural habitats and working landscapes with large enclosures and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, a Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard, and contains a diversity of native plants to help Bring Back the Pollinators.
Not all of our adopted companions belong outside, we also share our home with several creatures that either cannot survive on their own or would have unwanted impacts on the wild creatures that share our lands. These animals give us opportunities to talk about the global trade of animals and the impacts that the pet industry has on so many lives.
Two Florida Box Turtles (Terrapene floridana) live permanently on Moccasin Woods. In 2021, these turtles were found with six others abandoned in a chicken coop behind a foreclosed house. Disease had spread through the cramped conditions, and all had a respiratory condition that precluded their release back into wild populations and were rehomed. We strive to provide conditions that simulate their natural habitats, their 300 square-foot outdoor enclosure allows for these turtles to interact with a wide variety of local species.
Although most rewilding efforts focus on species that were extirpated in recent years, a growing body of thought suggests our baselines should be set much earlier, given many Pleistocene creatures were likely driven extinct at least in part through human activities. Moccasin Woods is home to a 150 pound Sulcata Tortoise named Banchi, who roams throughout a fenced pasture of over an acre. We suggest his movements, grazing, and burrows are analogous to those of tortoises in the genus Hesperotestudo, who ranged throughout much of North America until about 11,000 years ago. Banchi is dispersing seeds and, through his extensive burrow, providing homes and refuge for a variety of species, including mid-sized mammals.
Box Turtle Ecology
To better understand the local wild population of box turtles, we initiated a mark-recapture study that uses photographs to identify individuals. We hope to learn how many box turtles live in the wild around us as well as their preferred habits.
We use walking surveys and camera traps to document the biodiversity of flora and fauna on our north-central Florida property. From orchids to fireflies and rattlesnakes, our growing list will help us understand how the species in our area are responding to our ongoing restoration efforts.
We believe the historic forest of this region was a pine-dominated open forest (i.e., the longleaf pine ecosystem). Today however, due to fire-suppression (occasional small fires are a natural and beneficial disturbance) and land-use change, much has changed. We believe the forests of Moccasin Woods represent former agricultural lands eventually claimed by oak trees, viny undergrowth, and out of control ornamental plants. We work to remove damaging exotic and invasive species established on the land due to ornamental and agricultural processes, reduce dense underbrush and laurel oaks typical of abandoned forests in the region, and plant native species that provide benefits to local species.
Integrated Vegetation Management
Animals browse vegetation while reducing our dependence on chemicals or intensive mechanical removal, keeping vines and underbrush from taking over and keeping the habitat more open and suitable for many species associated with open pine and sandhill habitats. Currently only our Sulcata Tortoise is chipping in on this initiative, but we hope to someday incorporate goats as well.