Wildlife authorities in Florida caught a man who killed and ate 15 gopher tortoises and planned to slaughter 11 more of the threatened reptiles, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said a tip-off led an officer to woods in Citrus County on Florida's west coast where he found tire tracks and shells dumped on the ground. Returning the next day, he found a container holding 11 live gopher tortoises.
"He hid himself and waited, figuring the subject would return that afternoon," the FWC said in a statement, adding that when the man came back he admitted to feasting on the threatened species.
Katie Purcell, a spokeswoman for the FWC's law enforcement division, said prosecutors were preparing appropriate charges. The 11 tortoises were set free.
The officer involved, Thomas Reid, told a local TV station, WFTS Tampa Bay, the man knew what he was doing was a crime.
"I don't think anyone would hide tortoises out in the woods if they didn't think they were doing anything wrong," Reid said.
Florida designates gopher tortoises as a threatened species, meaning it is illegal even to possess one, let alone eat them.