Breaking News
More () »

Giant tortoises stolen from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm

Investigators are looking for the thief (or thieves) who took the endangered species from the park, right out of its exhibit.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Two giant tortoises were stolen from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm this week.

"They’re really rare and valuable," John Brueggen, director of the farm. "We have two species here at our zoo."

He says on Wednesday, there was a gut-wrenching realization. Two of the park's Galápagos tortoises were missing. 

Four of the tortoises were in an exhibit inside the park. They were last seen Wednesday afternoon around 1 p.m. By 4 p.m., two of them were gone. 

"I don’t think it’s a prank," Brueggen noted. 

As adults, the animals can get up to 600 to 700 pounds and can live to the age of 100 or more. But the tortoises that were stolen were only five years old and about 20 pounds, Brueggen explained. 

They hatched at the Alligator Farm in 2017. 

At the exhibit, there are no doors or gates open to the public. So the staff thinks the thieves hopped the fence, grabbed the tortoises, and hopped back over the fence to leave.

"Because they’re rare, this is almost like grand theft auto except it’s grand theft tortoise now," Brueggen said. "Because this is an animal that on an open market would sell for $10,000."  

He wasn't laughing. He wasn't smiling. This is a serious crime. 

Brueggen says there are no signs the animals escaped on their own. Staff has been searching the park, looking for them. State and local investigators are now combing through surveillance video. Brueggen thinks it could have been a savvy reptile robber or "some teenager said, 'Oh, I’d like to have that as a pet.'"

Either way, Brueggen said that staff members are broken-hearted. 

"This is a living creature, and they’re worried about its health."

On a larger scale, the staff has been trying to breed the animals in order to help save a species on the brink.

"It’s a shame to lose a young animal like this we hatched," Brueggen said. 

The stolen animals are similar in size to Florida's gopher tortoise but the juvenile Galápagos tortoises have more of a domed shaped shell and they cannot survive a Florida winter on their own, Brueggen noted.   

Overnight temperatures Wednesday night would have been too cold for the missing animals.

Before You Leave, Check This Out