Endangered turtles that are in demand on the black market have vanished from a zoo in Japan. Officials assume the 64 turtles were stolen, the AFP reports. "We feed them twice a week, and a keeper noticed their number was clearly low," an official at the Okinawa Zoo and Museum said. Employees checking the turtles' enclosure found that cable ties that secure netting had been removed at several places.
The turtles are all less than 8 inches long; 15 of them are Ryukyu leaf turtles and 49 are yellow-margined box turtles. Both are on the list of endangered species, and both are deemed "natural treasures" by the government, which means their use in commercial trade is prohibited. The turtles are sold as exotic pets on the black market "for high prices," the zoo official said. Habitat loss, in addition to poaching for the pet market, threaten the Ryukyu leaf turtles, per the Turtle Conservancy. (A lemur thief awaits sentencing.)