Stolen Tortoises - Helpful Tips

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Neal

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Note: Since this topic involves the discussion of a criminal act and recovery of stolen items, I must emphasize that any suggestions indicated here should be applied cautiously and at your own discretion. This is not a "should do" type of list, and I do not claim any expertise or authority on the matter. The intent here is to provide tips in an outlined fashion as an aid in the event that a tortoise is stolen from someone.

Occasionally we will have someone come on the forum and tell us about their stolen tortoises and ask for advice and help. Having experience this myself, I can tell you that it is one of the most frustrating and violating experiences I have ever had. While tortoises do have monetary value, what matters more is that they have a lot of personal value to their keepers which makes theft an even more painful experience. I have learned from my experience and now have preventative measures in place, but I still worry about this a lot. The reality is that there is only so much you can do practically in the way of prevention. If a thief were committed enough, there is still a threat that your tortoises will be taken from you.

I would like to share some things that I have learned from my experience as well as open the door for discussion on the topic. The goal here is to provide an aid for the recovery of stolen tortoises, and to provide ideas to aid in loss prevention. While my own experience failed to recover what was stolen, I hope this thread will at least be a tool to get someone started on the quickest track towards successful recovery.

Cataloging

Especially useful for those of us with large collections, a catalog can be a quick resource of vital information which will be useful in the recovery of a stolen tortoise. When a theft occurs time is critical in recovering stolen items. If you're dealing with other issues than just the stolen tortoises, chances are you are frantically searching for information on other stolen items or damaged property. It can be a dizzying and confusing time. Having a catalog available, with all the detail to identify your tortoises, will ensure that you are providing complete and accurate information to law enforcement. When and if a tortoise is found, a catalog can validate that the tortoise did belong to you. Here is how I catalog my animals:

- Species classification
- Detailed description of the tortoise (Color, shape, pattern, behavior, unique characteristics)
- Vitals (Weight, length, age, sex)
- Photographs - (Carapace, plastron, head and forelimbs, unique identifiable characteristics such as a shell abrasion or scar)
- Something else I list, which is less critical, is monetary value. A police report will contain a column for the monetary value of stolen items. I am not sure how exactly it would be used, but listing as much information as you can about the lost tortoises can't hurt.

Loss Prevention

As mentioned above, there's only so much one could do practically to protect their tortoises against a determined thief. In planning preventative measures to protect your tortoises, it's important to gain an understanding of a typical burglary and theft. Local law enforcement is a great resource to obtain this sort of information, as well as the good old internet. One of the most interesting statistics I have come across regarding burglaries is that a burglar will spend an average of 10 minutes inside a home. The person committing the crime wants to get in and get out as fast as possible.

Knowing that a burglars time in your home will be short, it would be reasonable to assume that deterrents of some sort will significantly decrease the probability of loss. This is an area where I do not want to go into too much detail, and I would ask that no one provide any details about what they do. Obviously, deterrents are only effective if they are unexpected, so I don't want to say specifically what I do or what anyone else does. Again, this is specifically about tortoises, general home security measurements are assumed to have failed. (e.g. locks and chains on doors, security doors, etc...). To give you some general ideas:

Locks on enclosures - As increasingly popular as enclosed habitats have become lately, a lock should be very simple to add to that sort of enclosure.

Securing the enclosure - If a thief is unable to break the lock, their next action would likely be to break the enclosure. A heavy enclosure makes it more difficult to maneuver and lift. You could even build a frame anchored to the floor or wall for the enclosure to sit in.

Obstructions - No need for much detail here, but making access to enclosures difficult could potentially dissuade someone from approaching the enclosure.

Basic Home Defense - Conspicuous security cameras (real or fake), could be effective. Alarms, motion sensors, etc...I don't want to be comprehensive here, but when it comes to the security of my tortoises, I would consider as many tools as possible.

A final word on deterrents - As mentioned earlier, a thief wants to get in and out quickly. So the name of the game here is adding time for a potential thief to gain access to your tortoises. Keep in mind too that you don't want to make so many obstacles that it becomes a threat to your safety or some sort of hazard. Get creative, but don't overdo it. Unless they are targeting the tortoises specifically, a combination of deterrents will encourage them to move on to something else.

Recovery

If your preventive measures fail and your tortoises are stolen, the next objective is recovery. I can't imagine any case where someone would not want to involve local law enforcement, so that is my first recommendation. From my experience, I can say that a typical residential burglary with minimal damage or theft has very little priority over everything else that a detective is faced with. So the burden is on you to keep in contact with the detective assigned to your case. Personally, I was only able to speak with the detective assigned to my case one time. That's over a period of 10 months (I had to give up after that), and several DOZEN phone calls. I don't say this to discourage anyone, but I want to illustrate that a lot of the recovery effort is going to be placed on you.

Now you'll have to think about what the thief is going to do with your tortoises. There's really only two things that they could do; sell them or keep them. Unless the tortoises were targeted specifically, there is a good chance that the thief has no idea what he took and will want to sell the tortoises. That could be a good thing, since the marketplace for a tortoise relatively small. After involving law enforcement, the next step I would recommend is contacting the local pet shops. Not Petco or Petsmart, but the privately owned pet shops that typically buy from private individuals. It would be wise to save the phone numbers of these pet stores in your phone for quick access. Remember, time is of the essence in recovering stolen assets. Provide them with as many details as you can about what was stolen and leave them with your name and phone number and if someone actually tries to sell them your stolen tortoises, inform the pet shops to call the police.

The next likely outlet for a thief would be craigslist. Again, assuming they don't know exactly what they have stolen, look for and respond to general ads with little detail as to what species of tortoise and ask for pictures. If you want to fish a thief out, create an inconspicuous ad. If you had an 8 inch male radiated tortoise stolen from you, don't create an ad that says "Looking for a young male radiated tortoise". Instead say something more like "Wanted - juvenile tortoise". Again, be cautious in doing this and don't attempt to take the law into your own hands. The ultimate goal here is recovery of your stolen tortoises. If you have evidence that you have contacted someone who has your stolen tortoise, provide this information to local law enforcement.

The next obvious outlet would be the internet. There are several approaches you could take here. In my case, I chose to post pictures and details of my stolen tortoises on a variety of websites. The thought behind this is that it gets a lot of eyes all over, and maybe someone will see something that you did not. I have suspected that this approach might discourage a thief from attempting to unload a stolen tortoise. Alternatively you could lay low and hope for an ad to pop up. I think that idea has merit, but I can't say which approach would be more effective.

 

Spn785

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Thanks Neal! This will be very helpful for many people I think. BTW is there any way to tag a tortoise like you can a dog or cat? One other thing you could do is post an ad saying this Tortoise is missing and offer a reward no questions asked.
 

Neal

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Spn785 said:
Thanks Neal! This will be very helpful for many people I think. BTW is there any way to tag a tortoise like you can a dog or cat? One other thing you could do is post an ad saying this Tortoise is missing and offer a reward no questions asked.

Some vets will microchip your tortoises. I'm not sure exactly how that works, but I think it's more for lost tortoises where someone has found a tortoise and brings it in to...wherever...to have it scanned. Then the owner information can be found and the tortoise can be returned. It probably would not have much use if the tortoise was stolen.

Offering a reward is a great idea. I have heard that people will offer a reward, pay the person by check, then issue a stop payment on the check as soon as the person leaves. Something to that affect. This assumes that the person returning your tortoises is the person that stole it. Not a bad idea.


Note: Neal has since found out stopping payment on the check is illegal. I am leaving this here to educate all of us on something NOT to do, because it does sound like a good idea at first glance.
 

bigred

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Thanks for the post and this has crossed my mind very often, My wife thinks Im paranoid. The last house I lived in I heard my neighbor talking about jumping my fence and taking my as he calls them turtles. Its also important not to tell your neighbors what you have as fat as tortoises go. You can also set up booby traps so that the person entering your yard will be HURT, this is what I have done. I do understand the legality of this an not really concerned about it. Locked gates, locked enclosures all help as well
 

EKLC

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Since my tortoises aren't too big, I try to make their outdoor enclosures look like a garden. It's a 5x5 wood frame that looks like a planter, and after putting up some "pepper" and "tomato" signs, no one would bat an eye.

I also agree wholeheartedly with keeping your tortoise ownership on the down-low, and keeping the pen itself out of view of passers-by.
 
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