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Slow-moving justice: tortoise recovered seven years after Perth zoo theft

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Police in Western Australia have located a critically endangered tortoise that was stolen from Perth zoo seven years ago.

The discovery comes as the zoo faces intense scrutiny of its security measures, after last week’s theft, and subsequent recovery, of a baby meerkat.

The Madagascan radiated tortoise, Astrochelys radiata, was one of two reported missing from the zoo in 2011.

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It was discovered at a house in Girrawheen in the city’s northern suburbs on 9 September by police who were searching the property in an unrelated investigation.

“It is believed the second tortoise was taken from the Girrawheen home on the same day police attended and there are concerns for the welfare of that tortoise,” a police statement said.

“To survive, these tortoises require special diets and living areas, completely different to the needs of a tortoise purchased at a pet store.”

Police have called for anyone with information about the second tortoise to come forward.

The 2011 theft is not the last time a radiated tortoise was stolen from Perth zoo. In 2016, a 10-year-old tortoise was taken from its enclosure and anonymously dropped off in a backpack outside a police station three days later by a buyer who, police say, had not realised it was stolen.

Radiated tortoises are highly valued by wildlife smugglers and have been poached almost to the point of extinction in their native Madagascar, where the wild population halved from 6.5 million to 3 million in the past five years.

They can also be notoriously tricky to look after, which is why Western Australia’s environment minister, Stephen Dawson, is pleased to have this one back.

“I am told that they require constant care so for them to have been removed from the zoo and to have lived for seven years really is amazing,” Dawson told Guardian Australia. “Notwithstanding that, the best place for them to be kept in Australia is in a zoo. These aren’t family pets, they are endangered animals and we need to look after them.”

He was hopeful the second tortoise would be recovered soon.

Dawson said the zoo had increased security measures after the two tortoises were taken in 2011, moving the enclosure away from the public area.



meerkats

Perth zoo is reassessing its meerkat enclosure after a kit was stolen earlier this month. Photograph: Michael Probst/AP

Police are investigating the theft on 20 September of a baby meerkat, which was taken from its glass-walled enclosure and recovered by police from a house in Beverley, in Perth’s outer eastern suburbs, late the next day. A 22-year-old man has been charged with stealing the animal, and a 23-year-old woman with receiving it.

“It’s a very skinny, tall glass wall; someone would have had to scale over,” Dawson said. “Once we learn what happened in relation to the meerkat then we can take any action that we need to [to increase security].”

The meerkats have been moved out of public display while the investigation is ongoing and to help the stolen kit to reintegrate with its family.

Dawson said the zoo took the safety and security of its animals “very seriously”, with security cameras throughout, and that security measures had to be balanced with public enjoyment and access.

“It really is a balance,” he said. “People want to go to the zoo to get close to the animals, but when you have people who do these kind of acts and commit crimes then we do have to reassess. We have to keep these animals safe.”

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