During a conversation with a passerby, the man "made the comment that he had two Gopher Tortoises at home in an aquarium and that if the Game Warden knew about it he would be in trouble," the report noted.

MILTON — A 57-year-old Milton man harboring a gopher tortoise in his home has been charged with a second-degree misdemeanor violation of the Florida administrative code regarding endangered or threatened animal species.

According to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the FWC learned May 17 that the man was stopped on Ard Field Road in Santa Rosa County near a gopher tortoise close to the roadway. During a conversation with a passerby, the man "made the comment that he had two Gopher Tortoises at home in an aquarium and that if the Game Warden knew about it he would be in trouble," the report noted.

The day after the man's statement, an FWC officer went to his residence. The man's mother, who lives at the same house, told the officer "her son had a Gopher Tortoise in an aquarium under their carport," according to the report.

The FWC officer confirmed the presence of the gopher tortoise, and after about 20 minutes, the man arrived at the home and agreed to answer questions. "During questioning, he admitted to having the Gopher Tortoise," the report stated. "He said he caught the tortoise on Ard Field Road and brought it to his home and put it in the aquarium."

Gopher tortoises are listed as a threatened species in Florida, in part because development is infringing on the large tracts of land they need as habitat. Both the animals and their burrows are protected under state law. The state administrative code makes it a misdemeanor to "take, attempt to take, pursue, hunt, harass, capture, possess, sell or transport any gopher tortoise or parts thereof or their eggs, or molest, damage, or destroy gopher tortoise burrows."

According to Santa Rosa County court records, the accused man is scheduled for a court appearance on July 2. A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.