On Sunday morning, someone took 13 tortoises, seven birds, seven ring-tailed lemurs, five marmosets, and four monkeys from the We Care Wildlife Sanctuary in Miami, loaded all the animals into a truck, and drove off.
The alleged heist occurred shortly after a fake ad impersonating the sanctuary was posted on Craigslist. “Free exotic animals. We’re a sanctuary going out of business. Go around back and help yourself,” read the ad, according to a report from The Guardian.
But Miami-Dade officials are treating the incident as a theft and believe it could have been planned out, since the offender only took animals that have a high value to animal dealers. According to local news outlet WSVN, the animals are worth more than $53,000.
The Miami-Dade police department did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment on the investigation.
“They’d have had to chase the animals around and net them, and put them in cages, and that puts them under even more stress. We have a tortoise that’s on antibiotics for a cold and needs needs injections every three days,” We Care volunteer Cindy Robert told The Guardian, adding that a stolen umbrella cockatoo must be fed soaked food or it won’t eat and will starve.
Robert is especially concerned since the animals were already stressed from a recent move to a new larger facility—counter to the fake ad claim that the sanctuary was closing down.
She told The Guardian that the We Care Facebook page was hacked last week and suspects the Craigslist ad could be connected to that incident. Roberts also suspects the transgressor knew the new location was under construction and that surveillance had not been set up. They simply removed a bolt to open a fence and get in, Roberts told news outlets.
“Please, just bring them back,” Robert told WSVN, “‘cause they need to be safe and cared for properly.”
Update 03/08/18: The Guardian now reports that the owner of the sanctuary has been arrested and charged with falsely reporting a crime. According to the paper, authorities say owner Josue Santiago staged the break-in and took the animals to a refuge in North Carolina. The text of this post has been updated to reflect this new information.