After making a public appearance for World Turtle Day on Wednesday, May 23, two gopher tortoises and two box turtles were found missing from their open enclosure on the morning of Thursday, May 24. A week later, zookeepers discovered another seven animals missing from secure enclosures, including a squirrel monkey, a skink, two red foot tortoises and another three box turtles.
“Students and staff are devastated,” said Kathy Russell, general curator at the zoo. “These animals have been with us for years. They are ambassadors for the guys in the wild. We hope that someone is taking care of them, but we know that we can provide the best care for them at the zoo. Please bring them back.”
The gopher tortoises are a protected species, making it a third-degree felony to harm or tamper with them. The two were rescued by the teaching zoo after surviving a dog attack and being hit by a vehicle. They each have multiple metal plates keeping their shells in place. They are also on medication to prevent a deadly virus that led to four tortoise deaths at the zoo earlier this year.
The Santa Fe College Police Department says that there is evidence that the animals were stolen from the facility and are conducting an investigation and increasing patrols in the area. The SF Counseling Center has a team of counselors stationed at the zoo, working with students and staff.
Anyone with information about the animals is asked to please contact SFPD at 352-395-5519.