By Gina Martinez
Staff at the Alley Pond Environmental Center are still shocked that one of their most prized animals has apparently been stolen.
Millennium, a 17-year-old African spurred tortoise, vanished from his enclosure over the weekend. According to police, sometime between Sunday afternoon around 4.p.m. and Monday morning, when an employee went in to check on the tortoise, he was gone. Police said whoever stole Millennium went to the back fence and broke in through a hole, freeing the totally fenced tortoise who weighs around 95 pounds and is 2.5 feet long.
Police said they were still investigating the case.
Sasha Sicard, executive assistant at the Alley Pond Environmental Center, said the community was very saddened by Millennium’s disappearance. Thousands of schoolchildren throughout the year visit the center just to see Millennium.
“We’ve had him for over 10 years,” Sicard said. “He was part of the community. We have some very upset children and adults who miss him. We would just like to have him back. Right now, we don’t have much information. For now, all we know is that it was a breaking and entering. We have damage to the gate. He lived in an outdoor closure. They left his friend ‘Mini-me’ inside — he stayed inside an outdoor garden.”
Sicard said it was possible that Millennium was stolen in order to be sold. The African spurred tortoise is the third-largest tortoise in the world and the largest mainland tortoise. The African spurred tortoise used to be a rare tortoise but because of successful captive breeding it is now one of the most common tortoises in captivity. Depending on size and age, African spurred tortoises can sell for up to $600.
“You can sell anything if you have the right buyer,” she said.
Sam Makki form Reptile Rescue in Orange County, Calif. said the African spurred tortoise is fairly common and not worth much in monetary value.
“Their value can go from zero to several hundred dollars,” he said “I say zero because there are a lot of them at rescue shelters looking for homes. A lot of people buy these tortoises on impulse because when they’re small they’re cute, but as they grow they’re hard to maintain and people get rid of them.”
Sicard said there is some discrepancy involving Millennium’s age. She said they believe he is 17 years old. According to Sicard, tortoises reach full maturity at 15 and can live to be 150 years old.
“Everyone is so upset,” she said. “We’re hoping he’s at least in a good home — that would sway our fears. Something like this has never happened here. We couldn’t have anticipated it. We’re looking into how it happened and looking into taking extra security measures. Police said they’re still investigating.”
State Sen. Avella (D-Bayside) said he found it disheartening that someone would steal one of APEC’s animals.
“The work that APEC does to create an experience to educate the community on a host of environmental issues is second to none,” he said. “I have reached out to APEC and have told them that, as always, if they need anything, to reach out to my office. I urge whoever stole this precious animal to safely return Millenium the tortoise to APEC as soon as possible.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart