LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - A man accused of dumping leftover spray paint in a gopher tortoise burrow claims he didn't know that he doused a reptile in red paint, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Officers said the investigation began in April when witnesses reported finding a gopher tortoise, which is a protected species, coated in red paint on County Road 455, just south of Montverde.
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The tortoise was turned over to a team of rescuers that includes The Central Florida Wildlife Center and Swamp Girls Adventures. It has since been named Raphael and has had the paint scrubbed from its shell.
Officers investigating the incident said they found a gopher tortoise burrow with fresh red paint at its entrance behind an asphalt striping business.
An employee of the business, 37-year-old Edwin Escalera, told officers that company procedure when it comes to dumping excess paint is to spray it into a 5-gallon bucket, let it dry then dispose of the bucket.
Escalera said he was in a rush the morning of April 18, so instead of waiting for the paint to dry, he dumped the paint into a hole, according to the report. Escalera said he never saw a gopher tortoise as he was disposing of the paint and he said he did not know how cement also ended up in the burrow, authorities said.
Officers said paint was found sprayed in the grassy area near the burrow as well.
The FWC's findings were forwarded to the state attorney's office and officials there decided Friday that charges against Escalera were appropriate.
He's accused of littering and illegal possession/take of a gopher tortoise.
Anyone who witnesses a suspected wildlife violation is asked to call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 800-404-3922.
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