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Tortoise 'Raphael' found covered in red spray paint

Gopher tortoises are threatened species in Florida

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(From WKMG-TV and Swamp Girls Adventures)

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for answers after they said a gopher tortoise was found near Orlando completely covered in what appears to be red spray paint, WKMG-TV reports.

FWC investigators said the tortoise was found in the middle of County Road 455, just south of Montverde, on Sunday.

Investigators turned the tortoise over to a team of rescuers that include The Central Florida Wildlife Center and Swamp Girls Adventures.

"All of the areas that were easily exposed were all red," said Kim Titterington, who's helping to rehabilitate the tortoise.

She said when she and her team at Swamp Girls Adventures saw the tortoise, they knew they needed to act fast.

"We don’t want the chemicals to continue to sink in," she said. "So, we needed to get as much as (the paint off) possible in the first 24 hours."

They nicknamed the tortoise "Raphael," after one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If the paint does sink into Raphael's skin, Titterington said it can cause damage to his organs. It can also block the sun and seal the tortoise's skin. If he breathes the paint in, it can cause respiratory issues. 

As gopher tortoises are a threatened species in Florida, Titterington said she and her team spent the last few days scrubbing the paint off  Raphael using dish soap and a toothbrush.

As of Wednesday, Titterington said they're mostly done, although she said some of the paint may just need to flake off.

She said they've all but ruled out the possibility that the tortoise fell into the paint because the paint is only on his surface, and it's not found in any crevices.

She said she believes this was intentional.