South America

Giant tortoises stolen from Galapagos

Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus). Source: AAP/Ardea Picture Library

Ecuador's environment ministry has raised the alarm over the theft of 123 young giant tortoises.

Ecuador's environment ministry says thieves have stolen 123 young giant tortoises from a breeding centre in the Galapagos Islands.

Thieves have stolen 123 young giant tortoises from a breeding centre in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, and could face up to 10 years in prison if caught.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the theft of the animals - which were of the Chelonoidis vicina and Chelonoidis guntheri species - from the centre on Isla Isabela, the ministry said.

Galapagos tortoises are a huge tourist attraction for Ecuador and the country has harsh penalties for environmental crimes. The thieves face up to 10 years in prison if caught.

There are 12 species of Galapagos tortoise, one for each of the major islands in the archipelago, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Another species (Chelonoidis abingdonii, also known as Pinta) died out in 2012, when the last male tortoise, Lonesome George, died.

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