Tortoises on way to supper table saved during safety checkpoint

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tortoises destined for the dinner table cost one Florida man more in charges than his original DUI arrest.

During a recent safety checkpoint in Wing, law enforcement officials discovered six gopher tortoises, after Micah T. McKinney, 33, of Ponce de Leon, was arrested for driving under the influence.

Officers searched his truck and found five buckets of gopher tortoises.

“The tortoises are protected by state regulation,” Conservation Enforcement Officer Randall Lee said.

Lee said McKinney was planning to consume the tortoises.

“He said he was taking the turtles back to Florida,” Lee said. “He said he was having some kind of family get together, and they were planning to eat them.”

It is illegal to possess wildlife that is not designated as game, Lee said.

“People think when they pick them up, that they can keep them as pets,” he said. “But they can’t possess them no matter what.”

Lee said he took it easy on the man and only charged him for one count since it doesn’t happen often.

“I tried my best not to stick it to him,” he said. “Situations like this don’t happen very often. I’ve been working 21 years, and I’ve dealt with gophers two or three times.”

However, he said he could have charged him for six counts of possession and for violating the Lacey Act, an act that protects both plants and wildlife.

The act makes it illegal to take, possess or transport wildlife, fish and plants.

It is the broadest, most comprehensive law designed to combat wildlife crimes.

Misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act are set at $10,000 and up to one-year imprisonment, Lee said.

Although gopher tortoises are not an endangered species east of Mobile Bay, they are now candidates for possible listing later on, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The tortoises were taken into conservation protection and later released near existing gopher holes in Crenshaw County.

The Florida man was arrested for DUI and held on a $7,500 bond, which included the bond amount for his possession of non-game species charge.