Gopher tortoises are protected under state law and for a good reason. The loveable, slow-moving Gopher Tortoise is famous for digging underground burrows 10 to 35 feet long with "bedrooms" at the ends. The burrows are found in sandy well drained areas through out Florida. In good weather, the tortoise emerges from its burrow to graze on low-growing vegetation, including leaves, grass and wild fruits. Over seventy other kinds of animals have been found using the state protected Gopher Tortoise burrows in various ways. These include burrowing owls, raccoons, opossums, gopher frogs, spiders, insects, cotton rats, indigo snakes, and rattlesnakes.
In my location, it is hard to take a walk in the woods without coming across numerous tortoise homes and developers have to pay thousands of dollars to move gopher tortoise burrows to a safe location before building, While gopher turtles had been a food staple for southerners in the past, it is illegal to move or kill a gopher tortoise in the state of Florida.In fact it's illegal under state law to even possess a gopher tortoise, which is a designated by the state as a "threatened" reptile. In 2006, the state estimated the gopher population in Florida at 785,000, threatened by habitat destruction.All this makes it especially frustrating when I hear that someone in Citrus County has been catching and eating gopher tortoises.
A Citrus County, Fla. man could face felony charges after being busted with 11 gopher tortoises. Working off a tip, Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission officer Tommy Reid. found a pile of dead gopher tortoise shells in the Citrus County woods. When he went back to the area the next day he found 11 live tortoises trapped. A short time later the culprit showed up in a truck ready to claim the trapped gopher tortoises. When asked what he was doing with the illegal catch, the man reportedly replied that he was eating them!