North Port man arrested for killing imperiled gopher tortoises
A call to the Wildlife Alert Hotline about a gopher tortoise taken from a North Port neighborhood has landed a convicted felon, who has a lengthy record, back in jail.
On Saturday, April 4, Theodore Cuyler Jr., (DOB 02/13/67) of 6707 Carovel Ave., North Port, loaded "Speedy," as the tortoise was locally known, into his van - over the loud objections of residents on Calera Street. Speedy was whisked away, never to be seen again.
Infuriated residents immediately called the Wildlife Alert Hotline (888-404-3922) to report the incident. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Bob O'Horo responded.
After receiving a description of the suspect, his vehicle and tag number, O'Horo and Dan Rush, North Port police officer, confronted Cuyler at his residence. The officers were unable to find evidence of illegal activity in Cuyler's yard, where the officer had permission to search. However, O'Horo wasn't satisfied, and he wasn't through.
About an hour after midnight on April 13, O'Horo and North Port police officers Shawn Rice and Mike Laden conducted a curbside inspection of a garbage can at Cuyler's residence.
Wading through the maggot-filled trash, officers found gopher tortoise parts, consisting of skin, feet and claws, which indicated that at least one gopher tortoise had been dismembered.
On April 19, FWC investigators arrested Cuyler and conducted a search of his home. No additional evidence was found during that search. Cuyler was released on a $1,000 bond.
Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species, because their deep burrows are important to the survival of more than 130 other species that call Southwest Florida home. Gopher tortoises are listed by the state as a threatened species. Intentionally killing a threatened species is punishable as a third-degree felony, with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or five years in prison.
"Concern for Florida's threatened species by hunters, fishermen and other residents of Calera Street, underlines the wide spectrum of Floridians who take the protection of the state's imperiled species seriously," O'Horo said.
If you would like more information on the Wildlife Alert Program or information on protecting Florida's imperiled species, visit MyFWC.com. To report any dead or injured wildlife or to report any wildlife law violations, call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.