Tuesday, November 21, 2017
News Roundup

Gopher-grabber nearly derailed science experiment for dinner

RECOMMENDED READING


Only in Florida could a long-term science project nearly get derailed by someone's dinner plans.

It started when a couple driving through Central Florida last month made a mistake. They drove into the Archbold Biological Station in Venus because they thought they could buy plants there. It's not a nursery, though. It's a research facility.

As they cruised along in a silver Nissan Murano, the driver noticed something by the roadside — a gopher tortoise nearly a foot long. On its shell was painted "1721" in white numbers 2 inches high. A radio transmitter had been glued on there, too.

"I'm going to get that on the way back," the driver, a 40-year-old man from Port Orange, said. According to his passenger, he had plans for the tortoise: "We are going to eat it for dinner."

Sure enough, while driving back out of Archbold, the driver stopped, hopped out, grabbed the tortoise and wrestled it into the Murano's hatchback.

At some point, someone used a long blade like a machete to chop the radio transmitter off the shell.

As the couple cruised east toward home, though, they got into an argument. The passenger called 911 on her cellphone to report that the driver had hit her. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper pulled the Nissan over at a RaceTrac gas station in Palm Bay.

That's when the passenger, Pamela Hampton, informed the trooper that they had a live tortoise in the back. The trooper called in a state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer.

The wildlife officer, Joshua Horst, questioned the Murano's driver. The man said he'd seen another car hit the tortoise and had picked up the injured animal out of compassion. He planned to take it to a neighbor in Port Orange who is a wildlife rehabilitation expert. He said he had no idea what happened to its tracking device.

"He admitted making a comment that 'they used to eat them back in the day,' " Horst wrote in his report. (During the Great Depression, hungry Floridians ate gopher tortoises, which they dubbed "Hoover chickens," after President Herbert Hoover's promise of a chicken in every pot.)

Horst examined the abducted animal and found "no scrapes, fractures or drag marks" showing it had been run over. The only mark on its shell was a "straight slice/cut" about an inch from where the tracking device had been, suggesting the first swing of the blade had missed the target.

Horst handed the driver a citation for illegal possession of a gopher tortoise, which is classified as a threatened species in Florida. The tortoise, a female, was handed back over to the biologists at Archbold, who hadn't realized it was gone, much less that it was traveling faster than any other tortoise in Florida. At best they check the tortoises' radio signals every couple of weeks, explained biologist Betsie Rothermel.

Rothermel said Wednesday that they returned 1721 to its burrow, where it has gone back to its humdrum tortoise life without any apparent ill effects from its Nov. 8 adventure.

Scientists first marked No. 1721 back in the 1980s as part of a tortoise study there that's been going on for nearly 50 years now.

"She is at least 45-years-old and has been living in this part of the station for decades," Archbold director Hilary Swain wrote on the Archbold blog this week. "In the past five years, we have recorded 23 observations of her grazing along the driveway, or in a few cases, scuffling with her apparent rival, a similar-sized female #795."

To the folks at Archbold, good old 1721 (sorry, no cute nickname) is more than just a number. It is "a valuable study animal and beloved by visiting children and adults alike," Swain noted.

So they're glad that it escaped a stew pot. The best part of the story, according to Swain, was the driver's name: Stewart Butcher.

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
Jones: Maybe the Florida job isn’t as good as we thought

Jones: Maybe the Florida job isn’t as good as we thought

These are strange, unsettling times for the University of Florida.The Gators need themselves a football coach.They offer a terrific job. Maybe one of the best jobs in the country.Right?Uh, right? (nervous laugh)Well, we’ll soon find out. Maybe this i...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Deputies: Seffner man paints truck to hide role in hit-and-run death

Deputies: Seffner man paints truck to hide role in hit-and-run death

SEFFNER — After pulling a Friday night shift waiting on tables, Linda Kay Fisher, a 46-year-old mother of two, walked north on the narrow, sparsely road that leads to her home.But just before midnight and with less than half a mile to go, Fisher was ...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Cambridge Christian’s Caleb Young makes up for lost season

Cambridge Christian’s Caleb Young makes up for lost season

TAMPA — For Cambridge Christian, last Friday’s Class 2A region final against Indian Rocks Christian represented a hurdle that the Lancers couldn’t quite clear a year ago. For one Lancer in particular, it was the Golden Eagles themselves that brought ...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
A new threat this shopping season: toys that can spy on kids

A new threat this shopping season: toys that can spy on kids

ST. PETERSBURG — Not all sinister toys are as obvious as a Chucky doll. Many present more subtle threats — choking hazards, high lead content, privacy concerns. And as the biggest shopping season of the year kicks off, consumer advocates are urging s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Indian automaker plant is latest sign of Detroit comeback

Indian automaker plant is latest sign of Detroit comeback

It has been years since Detroit, birthplace of the American auto industry, was a steady producer of the manufacturing jobs that defined it as the Motor City. But its comeback is entering a new phase.The latest milestone came this week, with the annou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Nursing home tells Congress Irma deaths not staff’s fault

Nursing home tells Congress Irma deaths not staff’s fault

Associated PressFORT LAUDERDALE — A Florida nursing home under investigation for the deaths of 13 patients after Hurricane Irma says in a letter to Congress that staff members did everything possible but couldn’t overcome a lack of power to the centr...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Big Tobacco’s anti-smoking ads begin after decade of delay

Big Tobacco’s anti-smoking ads begin after decade of delay

Associated PressWASHINGTON — Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend — but not by choice. Under court order, the industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jurors hear from firefighter who filed sex discrimination case

Jurors hear from firefighter who filed sex discrimination case

TAMPA — The firefighter suing the City of Tampa for discrimination took the stand for the first time Tuesday, telling the court room how other firefighters slammed the door in her face, refused to let her pump breast milk and propositioned her for se...
Updated: 1 hour ago
LINEBACKER CORPS IS A FORCE FOR CCC

LINEBACKER CORPS IS A FORCE FOR CCC

CLEARWATERFrom Colin McCarthy (Miami/Tennessee Titans) to Caanan Brown (Virginia) to Conner Dorris (Navy), a Clearwater Central Catholic defensive staple has been star quality at linebacker. Think Marauders, think linebackers. It has been a cornersto...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs linemen hand out Thanksgiving dinner to 1,000 families in drive-through event

Bucs linemen hand out Thanksgiving dinner to 1,000 families in drive-through event

TAMPA — The smiles started with hundreds of moms, dads and kids as they arrived at One Bucs Place, but it wasn’t long before the giant men in red were beaming, too."This is the first time I have gotten a Thanksgiving meal like this," said Melissa Mob...
Updated: 1 hour ago