$7,200 reward offered after 2 gopher tortoises brutally killed in Lakewood Ranch

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WFLA) -- The search is on for whoever brutally killed two state-protected gopher tortoises in the Lakewood Ranch neighborhood.

Gopher tortoises are a common sight along the walkways and paths near the Greenbrook Adventure Park.

But on June 8, a couple of kids riding their bikes stumbled upon a horrible scene. Near a bike path, they found two gopher tortoises with severely cracked shells.

A friend of 10-year-old Marina Redden called her over to come see what he found.

"I was really mad that someone would do that to a harmless turtle or tortoise," Redden said. "And I'm sad that someone would actually do that." 

Marina's dad, Ray Redden, snapped some pictures of the tortoises. One of them was dead. Another was severely injured with internal organs exposed.

Redden believes somebody injured them on purpose.

"When I looked over here to the left of the turtle, there was actually two spots on the sidewalk. Almost like you take a big boulder and slam it on the sidewalk, you get some of that white spray," he said.

He rushed the survivor to an animal hospital, but it didn't make it.

"It's disgusting and makes you very angry that somebody would do that to any kind of animal, let alone a turtle who can't even get away from you if it really tried to," he said.

About 30 feet away, a second tortoise lay dead.

Gopher tortoises are protected species. Developers are often forced to relocate the slow-moving creatures from their burrows.

"I think they're one of the most defenseless species we have out there and so it's particularly concerning to see that somebody would want to do something so cruel to a species that's listed as threatened in Florida," said Elise Bennett from the Center for Biological Diversity in St. Petersburg.

Bennet's organization is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or fine. The total reward now stands at $7,200.

If you have information that could help authorities catch the gopher tortoise killer, you can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's hotline at 888-404-FWCC.

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