Endangered tortoises stolen from Banstead garden
Two tortoises belonging to an endangered species have been stolen from a Banstead garden.
Gillian Gibson’s two Hermann’s tortoises, each the size of a hand, disappeared from a secure enclosure in her back garden, in Greenhayes Avenue in Banstead, between 4pm on Friday, June 15 and 12.30pm on Saturday, June 16.
The tortoises are so rare they are worth hundreds of pounds each and anyone who buys one without a licence could face five years behind bars.
Ms Gibson, who has had Harriet and Mildred since they were hatchlings, is convinced they have been stolen.
She said: "There is no way they could have escaped on their own or been taken by an animal.
"The only access to our garden is through the house or garage, both of which were locked, and we were at home overnight on the Friday.
"We believe someone has entered through neighbouring gardens.
"Tortoises require specialist care, appropriate heat, light and feeding and we are greatly concerned about the welfare of our two."
Ms Gibson has reported the theft to police and to John Hayward, coordinator of the National Exotic Pet Theft Register.
He said there has been an increase in the reports made to the organisation relating to lost, found and stolen tortoises - from 82 incidents in 2010 to 155 in 2011.
Mr Hayward said: "The theft of tortoises is one of the biggest types we have throughout the country.
"Tortoises require the sun’s rays for their growth, welfare and metabolism and so many are kept outside in garden and are often the target of thieves who see them as valuable items.
"Hermann’s tortoises are one of the most endangered species.
"They cannot be legally sold without a licence and anyone who does so commits a serious criminal offence which carries up to five years imprisonment.
"But the concern relates to the welfare of the tortoises as thieves will not be aware of their nutritional needs."
Mr Hayward said owners should take regular photographs of their tortoises so they are "positively identifiable" - particularly of their undersides, or plastrons, which contain unique pigmentation and striation features, personal to each tortoise.
He said: "If the tortoise is large enough it can be micro-chipped, but any tortoise should be regularly photographed because of its unique markings on the underside - the tortoise ‘finger print’ system."
Call Mr Hayward on 01869 325699 if you have any information about the missing tortoises.