The New York Police Department are hunting down a gang of thieves who have stolen one of the city’s treasures: a really heavy, really expensive tortoise.
The African-spurred tortoise, who goes by the name Millennium, was discovered missing from the Alley Pond Environmental Center in Queens, New York, on Monday morning, suggesting he had been stolen over the weekend or during the night.
The tortoise is 17 years old, which is fairly young for this species considering they can live for well over 100 years. Native to North and East Africa, this species is the largest tortoise on the African mainland and listed as “Vulnerable” under the IUCN Red List.
Millennium weighs around 45 kilograms (100 pounds), so stealing him would probably be difficult.
“They had to have a car – there is no way they are going to drag him down Northern Boulevard,” Alley Pond Environmental Center worker Sasha Sicard told the New York Post.
“They couldn’t push him through the [hole in the] fence,” animal caretaker Carlos Martinez added. “They probably handed him off to someone else.”
Why would any bother stealing a tortoise? Workers at the Alley Pond Environmental Center told the Post that the tortoise could fetch upwards of $2,500 on the black market. Recent years have seen an increase in demand for tortoises of all species, with many ending up in the black market and headed for Asia. Especially in China, these animals are commonly regarded as a symbol of wealth and status, or alternatively used in traditional medicines.
As for Millennium, it’s still uncertain why anybody would steal him, although the black market seems the most viable reason. The NYPD is currently reviewing the security camera footage and some suspicious footprints in the hopes of catching the culprits. The NYC Mayor's Office even tweeted yesterday, saying: "Help us find Millennium!" along with some tortoise emojis.
“It never would have even occurred to me that someone would steal him," Venus Hall, an educator at the center, told DNAinfo New York. "It could be anyone."
"It was quite shocking and disappointing because Millennium is one of our big attractions here."