Early Sunday morning, somebody drove a truck around to the back gate of Miami, Florida's We Care Wildlife Sanctuary, and stole 36 animals.
The mystery thief (or thieves) swiped seven ring-tailed lemurs, five marmosets, four monkeys, seven birds, and 13 tortoises.
Miami-Dade Police Department detectives investigating the case believe the theft is linked to a fake Craigslist posting that advertised free exotic animals.
"We're a sanctuary going out of business. Go around back and help yourself," read the false ad.
"We've been violated," says Cindy Robert, a sanctuary volunteer.
Robert believes it was an organized effort.
"They took the dollar animals. They knew exactly what they wanted...They left the raccoons, they left the horses, they left goats, and there were some birds nesting in the tree that they didn't see because it was pitch black. We did get to keep those, at least."
Robert notes that the dollar value of the stolen animals runs into the "thousands." However, it's not the money that she and the sanctuary owners are worried about. The safety of the animals is their number one concern.
"I don't think these animals are going to be taken care of. The stress alone could give some of them heart attacks," she says. Just the process of collecting them would have been incredibly stressful.
"They'd have had to chase the animals around and net them, and put them in cages, and that puts them under even more stress."
A number of the animals stolen require care above and beyond the already specialized care that exotic animals demand. One of the stolen birds, for example, has specific feeding requirements, and one of the tortoises requires injections every three days. Without proper care, these animals could die within a matter of days.
"The owners [Armando Mendez and Josue Santiago] can't even talk about it, they're so upset. The two of them are just basket cases...One can't stop crying, he's so attached to these animals. It's a huge labour of love to these animals to protect them," Robert says.
This theft comes on the heels of some threats that the owners of the sanctuary have been receiving. The detectives are combing over this history, as well as looking into the Craigslist hoax, in the hopes that it might lead them to those responsible.
The sanctuary, contrary to the false information offered in the Craigslist ad, is actually undergoing an expansion. Robert believes the thieves, who removed bolts from a fence rather than breaking locks on the gate, knew that the new site was still under construction and lacking security cameras.
The Miami-Dade Police Department is currently investigating the case and has offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who can help locate the lost animals. Sanctuary volunteers are also aiding in the search by reaching out to contacts as far away as Texas and Maryland.
Additionally, spotters will be looking for the lost animals at Florida's upcoming exotic pet amnesty day in Poinciana.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.
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