State of Florida Searching for Person Who Is Painting Tortoise Shells, Endangering the Animals

by Jennifer Shea

Florida is seeking help in tracking down the person who has been capturing wild tortoises and painting their shells with toxic paint.

At least two gopher tortoises have turned up with their shells painted recently. The gopher tortoise is one of five North American tortoise species and is currently listed as threatened in the state of Florida.

“No one should apply paint to a gopher tortoise’s shell (or other body parts)! It may seem harmless, but it is illegal,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a press release. “Painting the shells of turtles and tortoises can cause respiratory problems, allow toxic chemicals into the bloodstream, and can make them more visible to predators.”

Anyone with information on the painted tortoises can call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 or send a text to [email protected]

One Florida Tortoise Rescued, One on the Loose

The first animal showed up with its shell painted bright pink. Wildlife officials rescued it and brought it to a rehabilitation facility. Workers there are trying to remove the toxic paint without causing further harm.

Someone reported the second tortoise to the FWCC. But wildlife officials have yet to find it. They are asking members of the public not to interfere with the tortoises themselves. Instead, observers should report any painted tortoises to the Wildlife Alert Hotline.

“Do not try to capture the tortoise or remove the paint yourself, as doing so could cause more harm. Contact Wildlife Alert instead,” the agency requested. “If you have any information about who may have applied the paint to these gopher tortoises in the St. Lucie County or Okeechobee County areas, contact our Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by texting [email protected] from your cell phone.”

Gopher tortoises live in forests and pastures, digging deep burrows to build their homes. They spend 80% of their time in the burrows. And that may be why officials are having trouble retrieving the second tortoise.

With their tough front feet and back legs well-adapted to digging, the tortoises dig and use multiple burrows. And those burrows go on to provide shelter for approximately 360 other species. The second tenants range from snakes and frogs to skunks, rabbits and armadillos.

According to the Fish & Wildlife Service, gopher tortoises are protected under the Endangered Species Act in some Alabama counties and in Mississippi and Louisiana. In Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, officials are considering the tortoises for possible listing under the Act.

Left to their own devices, gopher tortoises can live to 40 to 60 years old in the wild.