The most likely reason for the theft of the giant tortoise could be exotic animal trade, says Madras Crocodile Bank director Allwin Jesudasan.
On the morning of November 12, the staff of the Crocodile Bank noticed that an Aldabra tortoise had gone missing. After searching the zoo premises thoroughly, a complaint was lodged on the same day with the Mamallapuram police.
The female Aldabra tortoise – named Master Shifu by the team after the incident – weighed between 60 kg and 80 kg.
“It is likely that thieves may have entered by jumping over the south side wall. The particular enclosure, being one of the southern most ones within the approximately eight-acre premises, the outer wall separates it from a public lane that is not used frequently,” Mr. Jesudasan said.
The tortoise, he said, had been with the crocodile bank since 2008. Besides the possibility of exotic animal trade, there were other motives such as perceived medicinal uses.
The IUCN status of the species was vulnerable, he said via e-mail.
“The Aldabra tortoises were part of a zoo-exchange programme between Prague Zoo, Czech Republic, and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. They were brought to the zoo in exchange for seven gharials,” he said and added that the tortoise, like most reptiles, had a personality of its own.
“Master Shifu is quite shy and reserved except when it comes to food, especially favourites such as banana and apple. She loved getting neck massages but used to make it clear when she had had enough.”
First crime in 44 years
Mr. Jesudasan said this was the first such crime reported at the Crocodile Bank in its 44-year history.
“We are in the process of redoing the CCTV network anyway to include enclosures, and have decided to increase the height of the wall and to increase the number of security personnel. This work started soon after this incident.”