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Officials investigate illegally airbrushed gopher tortoise found in Florida county

A gopher tortoise is in a rehabilitation facility after it was found painted on in Pasco County.

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — A gopher tortoise is now in the care of Owl's Nest Sanctuary after the animal was found in Zephyrhills with a desecrated shell. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that it's illegal to paint or airbrush a tortoise's shell and confirmed they are investigating this case. 

Credit: Owl's Nest Sanctuary

Gopher tortoises are considered a threatened species in Florida and there are protections in place to keep them safe. It is illegal to touch or mess with tortoises, according to authorities.

Officials with Owl's Nest Sanctuary explained painting tortoises can harm the animal because its shell is attached to the tortoise's skeleton, which has blood cells and nerve endings. 

They said a tortoise's shell can't be submerged with anything otherwise the animal can suffocate. Officials said the shell also contains dermal bone and paint can clog the holes, which can also suffocate the reptile. 

Currently, a medical team is working on the found female tortoise. It has taken weeks to get some of the airbrush paint off and they are still in the process of removing the remaining paint. 

Officials said after rehabilitation the tortoise will be able to be released back into the wild.

The tortoise didn't sustain any injuries but emotionally has been distressed as the paint needs to be removed. Officials said if the paint wasn't removed, the tortoise's shell wouldn't grow properly.

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