Man Found With Endangered Tortoises Planned to Eat Them, Sheriff's Office Says

A man in Florida was caught by deputies scavenging for an unusual Sunday night meal, Martin County Sheriff's Office said.

Responding to a call of a "man down," sheriffs found Robert Lane on the ground as he was attempting to grab endangered gopher tortoises. The 28-year-old had already captured a male and a female tortoise and was looking for others when the deputies stopped him.

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In a Facebook post, the Sheriff's Office added that Lane admitted to taking the tortoises from their hole and that he "had plans to consume them." Deputies returned the tortoises to the holes they had been taken from.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gopher tortoises are considered a "keystone species" in Florida, where they're listed as threatened." The moderately sized reptiles can live for 40 to 60 years and are the only tortoise species in the U.S. that live east of the Mississippi River.

The tortoises also share their burrows with over 350 other species, including owls, mice, snakes, opossums, rabbits, frogs and crickets—a fact that makes the tortoises integral in the lives of the other species.

Gopher tortoises were famously eaten by some during the Great Depression and earned the nickname "Hoover's chickens" after President Herbert Hoover. During his presidential campaign, a Republican circular loudly stated "a chicken for every pot," something which later came to bite Hoover's reelection campaign, according to the National Archives.

Martin County Sheriff's Office said that the case was handed over to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Lane faces charges related to poaching on state property, authorities said.