Gopher tortoises have been around for at least 60 million years, but it looks like they are losing the race to survive to a faster retailer, which has only been around for 43 years. Wal-Mart has been known to build its stores over dead bodies — literally — in places like Hawaii and Tennessee. Usually the bodies are dug up and relocated. But in North Palm Beach County, Florida, Wal-Mart has paved over five gopher tortoises that lived in burrows underneath a proposed superstore in the Lake Park neighborhood. State officials were complicit in this case, allowing Wal-Mart to bury the tortoises alive earlier this year, leaving them to starve or gasp for air for the weeks or months it would take them to die, according to a story in this week’s Palm Beach Post. The so-called “Lake Park Five” prompted the Humane Society of the United States to criticize Wal-Mart for this destruction of natural habitat and reptiles. “They’re basically selling their souls,” the Humane Society wrote. Wal-Mart told the Palm Beach Post that the burial of tortoises “will come up again, and we want to do a better job than what’s been happening.” Relocating gopher tortoises is not easy, and often is unsuccessful. The tortoise burrows also provide shelter for more than 360 animal species, including owls, armadillos, snakes, the gopher frog, the gopher cricket, and a species of mouse than cannot exist without the tortoises’ tunnels. In Florida, these tortoises are not considered an endangered species, just a “species of special concern.” The way Wal-Mart buries environmental issues in Florida also does not seem to be of special concern.
There are more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores in existence. They are hardly on anyone’s endangered list. But the gopher tortoises are being buried alive so that you and I can get cheap underwear. If it came down to which group should have to move, many Florida residents might suggest that the tortoises were there first. For other Wal-Mart environmental horror stories, search Newsflash by “environment.”