A giant Aldabra tortoise, second largest in the world and estimated to be worth over Rs 10 lakh in the international market, has gone missing from the Crocodile Park at Mahabalipuram, 56 km south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Though the theft took place six weeks ago at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust Centre for Herpetology, but seems to have become public only now.
The police, who have filed a case and are investigating the theft, suspect it to be an "inside job". Staff members of the park have been questioned, the police said.
Local police inspector Vel Murugan said the theft is suspected to have been done in the intervening night of November 11 and 12 and it seems to be "well-planned" as the accused avoided getting caught on any surveillance camera in the vicinity.
"There were no CCTVs near the enclosure of the giant tortoise, but we detected activity outside the park in the middle of the night. We suspect, the thieves escaped with the animal via the East Coast Road. We are working on some leads. We suspect there could be insider involvement," senior police officer E Sundaravathanam told NDTV, adding that a special team is investigating the case.
Among the hundreds of reptiles, including tortoises and crocodiles, at the park, the one that has gone missing was among the park's four Aldabra giant tortoises, identified scientifically as Aldabrachelys Gigantea.
The Aldabra tortoises are only second in size to the Galapagos. They are the among the longest living animals on Earth with a life span of up to 150 years, can grow over 1.5 metres in length and weigh up to 200 kg.
The one that has gone missing from the Madras crocodile park possibly weighed 80-100 kg and may have only been 50 years old, the police said, adding that it could have been stolen for possible medical benefits attributed to the animal's body parts.
The crocodile park director was not available for comment. No such incident has ever been reported from the park till now.
Curiously, the park's social media page uses the picture of one of its giant Aldabra tortoises to greet wildlife enthusiasts and supporters a Merry Christmas.
In the year 2000, a young tigress Sakhi was killed and skinned inside her enclosure in Hyderabad's zoological park as 13 other tigers watched and roared.