A giant Aldabra tortoise, second largest in the world and estimated to be worth over ₹ 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.
Police said the private facility, run by Romulus Whitaker at Vadanemmeli, 47km south of Chennai, on East Coast Road, is under surveillance, with outsiders having least access to the place. The police, who have filed a case and are investigating the theft, suspect it to be an “inside job”. Police said staff at the facility noticed the tortoise missing while feeding the others vegetables and green leaves. They alerted the farm in-charge who informed police. 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. The one that has gone missing was among the park’s four Aldabra giant tortoises, identified scientifically as Aldabrachelys Gigantea. Another three tortoises of the species remain in the two-foot tall enclosure. The Aldabra tortoises are only second in size to the Galapagos. They are 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 facility where mainly crocodiles are bred, has four exotic Aldabras, mostly found on the Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles. They were purchased from Indonesia more than two decades ago.