TOKYO, Japan – More than 60 endangered turtles have disappeared from a zoo in the southernmost province of Japan in an alleged robbery, officials said on Thursday.
"We fed them twice a week and a guard noted that their numbers were clearly low," Kozue Ohgimi, head of the zoo section of the Okinawa zoo and museum, told AFP.
Authorities later discovered cable ties used to secure the net over the turtle housing at various points.
"The nets were loose enough to allow an adult to infiltrate the area," Ohgimi told AFP by telephone.
Authorities fear the turtles may have been stolen for sale on the black market, where they are valued as exotic pets.
"They are negotiated for high prices," said Ohgimi.
The disappearances have been reported to local police investigating, zoo officials said.
The turtles are small, measuring about 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) in length.
In total, the zoo said 64 turtles had disappeared – 15 Ryukyu leaf turtles and 49 yellow-bordered box turtles.
Both types are on the red list of species threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Both species are also referred to as "natural treasures" by Japan's cultural affairs agency – meaning that commercial trade is prohibited.