A Texas Elementary School Was Caught With 24 Threatened Tortoises

by Taylor Cunningham
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A Texas elementary school found itself in a sticky situation after game wardens learned that a classroom had been collecting endangered Texas tortoises for years.

The Duval County school introduced the first two tortoises to the building a few years ago. And over time, students brought in more. When officials finally caught on, 24 of the creatures were living inside the school’s atrium.

By last summer, teachers were knee-deep in the animals and realized they couldn’t properly care for them. So they asked a Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist for help. Once he saw the animals, he identified that they were listed as threatened by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Texas tortoise is one of four gopher tortoises species that live in the U.S. They’re a friendly and docile breed that makes for good pets. And because suppliers over-exploited them for profit, the reptile ended up on the threatened list in 1977. There is currently a $10,000 fine per animal if a person is found to possess a Texas tortoise.

Luckily, the warden let the school and students off with a warning in the October incident. However, they did confiscate all 24 of the animals and returned them to their natural habitat at a nearby ranch.

From Texas to Florida, Officials are Cracking Down on People Threatening the Gopher Tortoise

Another gopher tortoise species is making headlines in Florida. But unfortunately, the situation isn’t as innocent as the one in Texas.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, someone was finding the small creatures and painting their shells with toxic paint this summer. And though the perpetrator likely didn’t know that decorating the animal was harmful, doing so was putting the species at further risk. 

“No one should apply paint to a gopher tortoise’s shell (or other body parts)! It may seem harmless, but it is illegal,” the agency 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.”

FWCC first learned of the situation after someone called about a tortoise painted bright pink. Wildlife officials rescued the animal and took it to a rehabilitation center.

Then, someone reported a second painted tortoise shortly after, but the FWCC could not locate it. Officials did, however, warn that should someone else find it or another victim, they shouldn’t take matters into their own hands.

“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 asked. “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.”