TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida animal sanctuary is reminding residents and tourists to stop painting the shells of turtles and gopher tortoises.
The reminder comes after a female gopher tortoise was found in Florida with a pink design and flowers airbrushed onto its shell.
A Good Samaritan found the tortoise and alerted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, then it was taken to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife in Odessa. It’s unclear exactly where the tortoise was found.
“Sometimes honestly, we have NO WORDS for what people do to animals for their entertainment,” the sanctuary wrote in a post on its Facebook page. “This is not our first case of people illegally painting tortoises in seven years, but this was different, it was fine airbrush paint.”
Painting a tortoise’s shell is not only illegal — it can severely compromise their health. The paint can interfere with their absorption of nutrients and cause harmful chemicals to be absorbed into their bloodstream. It can also cause respiratory problems.
“The shell is not only attached to the tortoise’s skeleton but also blood cells and nerve endings. Consequently, an injury on it can affect the blood cells and cause internal bleeding and eventual death,” the sanctuary said. “The shell also contains the dermal bone, so when a fine spray paint clogs the holes, it can actually almost suffocate the reptile.”
The sanctuary said its medical team was working to remove the paint, and that their head biologist will determine where the tortoise will go.
“Hopefully far away from the people who thought this was entertainment!” they added.
“In Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as Threatened and it is against the law to kill, harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their burrow or eggs unless authorized by a permit,” an FWC spokeswoman said in an email to WFLA.
Those with information about the incident can call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922) or submit a tip online at MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert.