Fifty-nine baby crocodiles were recently reported stolen from a reptile park in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The hatchlings went missing last month from the Crocodylus Park in Darwin’s CBD, where they were being held as part of a research project aimed at exploring the impacts of habitat on crocodile growth. According to park owner Professor Grahame Webb, the animals are worth several hundred dollars each—and he's "100 percent sure they were stolen."
"It’s happened to us before," he told VICE over the phone, noting that hundreds of baby crocodiles have been taken from the park in the past. "At one stage we know that it was young kids that were putting them in their backpack and obviously selling them to somebody—I don't know who—and one time we saw a vehicle with five guys parked outside."
Professor Webb said he isn't sure exactly why people keep stealing the park's reptiles, but noted that "crocs have become a commercial commodity: you can buy crocodile products, you can buy stuffed crocodiles, you can buy things that are made from crocodiles.
"So I'm not sure if there's some bandit out there, but my guess is that somebody—probably interstate—has decided they’re gonna do something with them," he said. "What I’d like to know is who’s doing it, and what is happening to [these animals] ... What are you going to do with 59 crocs?"
Police have investigated the incident, and confirmed to VICE that at the time of writing no arrests or charges had been made. They further stated that they “do not have information to suggest the alleged theft was part of an operation.”
For Professor Webb, the whole thing remains a mystery—although he's convinced that someone's profiting from the thefts.
"Someone's buying them, someone's either shipping them out or using them here or converting them into something here," he told the ABC. "The scientist in me would like to know, who is doing what? You just feel sick."
This article originally appeared on VICE US.