A DEAD tortoise was found abandoned in a plastic box on a bench at a popular park.

The RSPCA is appealing for information after the shock discovery near Tuckton Tea Gardens in Bournemouth on New Year's Eve.

A member of the public found the tortoise in a box, lined with straw, during the afternoon.

RSPCA Inspector Patrick Bailey, who is investigating for the animal welfare charity, said: "This particular bench is overlooking the river and is quite close to the main entrance to the park, rather than being a bench tucked out the way.

"This is a very popular small park that people stroll through, dog walk, and take children to the play park. The member of public assumed it was dead but couldn’t be sure, so took it to a vet to double check and sadly they confirmed it was already dead.

"There are no outwardly obvious signs of injury or ill health and there is no way of knowing if the tortoise was dead when put on the bench, or if it died in the very cold weather we had that day."

He urged anyone with information to contact the charity on 0300 123 8018.

And now the RSPCA has encouraged anyone thinking of taking on any animal to make sure they do their research and are aware of the responsibilities and commitments involved.

Patrick added: "We are finding that many people are unaware of how much of a commitment these animals are when they take them on, which we believe may be why we are rescuing hundreds of reptiles every year.

"Reptiles and other exotic pets are completely reliant on their owners to meet their welfare needs including requiring the correct levels of heat, light and humidity, plus an appropriate diet. Many of the animals we’re called to help are found outside, like this tortoise, where they can very quickly suffer in the cold.

"We believe that people may buy them with little idea of how difficult they can be to keep and the animals are sometimes neglected when the novelty wears off and the commitment hits home.

"This is why we would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal’s needs and whether they’re the right pet for them, and we would also urge them to ask for help if they’re struggling to meet their needs."

Anyone who wishes to help the charity should go to rspca.org.uk and join its new campaign, #JoinTheRescue