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The Strangest Animal Thefts in History

Updated on July 20, 2017
Theophanes profile image

Theophanes is a New England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of life.


For as long as we've put value into the animals in our lives there has been someone to take advantage of that fact. Just think of the cattle rustlers in the wild west. There's a lot of money to be made in stealing certain animals. For instance it is actually pretty common for bird breeding operations to be raided. Much like art thieves high-end bird burglars will get a list of black market buyers who want certain species and before you know it an entire aviary can be cleaned out in one night and their breeding pairs of hyacinth macaws, worth thousands of dollars a head, will be sold from right out beneath them. There was even a $9000 robbery of fancy pigeons and chickens in Caledonia Wisconsin. Some of the pigeons were worth more than $100 a head, perhaps good practice for a bird thief. Still some of these robberies really stick out in how elaborate, bizarre, or nonsensical they are. Below I have listed some of the more startling thefts through history.

Drunken Penguin Robbery

What happens when you drop three drunk Brits off at an Australian Sea World after hours? A missing penguin. Rhys Jones and two of his inebriated friends snuck past an apparently lax security guard at an Australia SeaWorld off the Gold Coast. After doing so they swam with some confused dolphins who showed great grace in not killing the intruders. This was filmed so we know what happened. However when the three men woke up to find Dirk the penguin in their apartment they hadn't the faintest idea how he got there. In a similarly poor decision they released to poor penguin into a nearby body of water where he was later rescued, hungry, confused, and probably a bit annoyed. The three men were charged large fines and Dirk the Penguin went on to become Australia's most famous penguin.

The League of Liberated Mink

An extreme animal rights activist group calling themselves ALF (Animal Liberation Front) has a rather nasty way of getting their point across- releasing thousands of minks. Technically these minks aren't stolen, they're just let out of their cages, but the effect is the same - horrendous! These animals have been raised in captivity for generations, to suddenly be released into the wild is a cruelty all it's own. But even if this wasn't an issue there seems to be no heed given to the fact mink are in fact furry little Jack the Rippers, who devastate local wildlife by going on a killing spree like never seen before. Birds, nests, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and small mammals all find themselves completely eradicated by these murderous semi-aquatic beasties, especially when they show up in a virtual swarm. The largest US releases have introduced over 10,000 individuals into these unfortunate ecosystems all at once. One release busted the cages containing 22,000 animals in Washington in 2003. Over half stayed in the safety of the cages they had known their entire lives.

Escobar's Hippos

Wildlife smuggling is a huge problem in much of the world. Reptiles and fish often make for quiet victims as they're packed into luggage, sewn into clothes, and brought across borders. Mammals are harder but since there's still money to be made many small ones end up kidnapped, drugged, and sold into the illegal pet trade. However these animals are small enough to be carried on a person or shoved into a piece of luggage. How then do you smuggle not one but four hippos into your country?! Apparently by building your own plane landing strip and paying a lot of money to a heck of a lot of people to look the other way. Pablo Escobar, leader of Columbia's largest drug cartel, fashioned his own zoo containing a series of astounding smuggled animals including giraffes and elephants but the hippos remain in the public eye more than twenty years after Escobar's death. Apparently the original male and his three females escaped after Escobar's demise and started making a sweet living in the tropical waters of Columbia. Here they started their own family and founded what's probably the world's only feral hippo population, numbered at 50 or 60 individuals.

The Case of "Hitler's Cows"

The story of the Heck brothers is one about stealing from zoos, not stealing for zoos. They ran their own zoological garden in Germany when the Nazis rose to power. This probably wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the fact they decided they could make light of the situation by making alliances and becoming extreme opportunists. They played on the Nazis patriotism and love of hunting, claiming they could bring back the mightiest of the extinct German wildlife which included a type of wild cow called an Auroch. Auroch's had gone extinct in the last ice age, with our only known depictions of them being painted on cave walls. This didn't deter the Heck brothers. They decided to "reverse engineer" an Auroch from modern cattle breeds, both wild and domestic, but where did they get their breeding stock? From occupied countries of course! When a country is occupied zoos tend not to function real well... most animals die or are eaten by invading armies or starving peoples living nearby but this wasn't the case for the animals that caught the Heck brother's attention. These animals would be cherry-picked to be transported back to them during the invasion, guaranteeing them whatever stock they wanted for their breeding projects. In the end these cows were released into a number of "wildlife preserves" (otherwise known as the recently depopulated forests of several countries) to perpetuate the breed. Not surprisingly after the war when survivors moved back into these areas most of these cattle mysteriously disappeared, probably eaten by rightfully angry people. Around 2,000 of "Hitler's Cows" still exist, but mostly in zoos in Germany, their reputations too tarnished for anyone else to really want them. And if that isn't bad enough the Heck brothers wanted these cows to be "tough" and purposely bred them to be enormous and ill-tempered. So now despite the fact they are tough enough to birth calves in a blizzard without batting an eye no one really wants to be gored by one and they find themselves teetering precariously close to extinction again.

Close Encounter with a Heck Bull

Bee Theft is on the Rise!

Most people don't know that the money in bees isn't really the honey anymore, it's in renting out the hives to farmers to pollinate crops. Almond crops in particular are booming in California but they do not produce any almonds unless the plants are pollinated, usually by bees. So farmers will pay a few dollars per hive to rent them out for a few hours or a few days. This seemed to work well until Hive Collapse hit the area. There's a lot of speculation on what could be causing this but it's safe to say that a whole lot of bees have been dying off much to the horror of their keepers. This has caused tensions to rise and might be in part responsible for the current rash of hive thefts. Recently Gabino Jordan Pena found himself in the news as one of the few hive wranglers to be caught by law enforcement. He was accused of stealing hundreds of hives, worth $40,000, and bringing them to a sort of bee chop shop where he ground off all identifying markers on the bee boxes and attempted to rent them out at half price. He was caught due to one alert farmer who knew of a bee theft in the area when he was offered a half price deal by someone in a Starbuck's parking lot. He noted the boxes unusual coloration before tipping off the victim of the theft.

From bees to hippos there's apparently nothing too big or too small that isn't worth stealing. And so the stories continue to pour in. Have you noticed any strange animals robberies on your local news? Then feel free to share in the comments section!

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    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      3 years ago from New England

      Well, to be the object of a theft is never a good thing, obviously the people carrying out these robberies aren't doing so because of love for the animals! It' s a seedy underworld out there! But thank you for commenting. I agree, some of these are really strange, and Dirk the Penguin sure is a trooper!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      What a fascinating collection of stories. I feel badly for many of the animals involved. Poor Dirk the penguin, but at lead this story ended well!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      This was an interesting hub to read. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!

    • DaphneDL profile image

      Daphne D. Lewis 

      4 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

      He's had some issues in years past but nothing I've heard recently.

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      4 years ago from New England

      Yes, some of these even threw me a bit off. Poor bees! Hope your friend doesn't suffer any losses (either by theft or the mystery deaths going 'round.)

    • DaphneDL profile image

      Daphne D. Lewis 

      4 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

      These are definitely interesting cases of animal theft. I have a friend who has bees so I'm going to warn him. Great hub!

    • Theophanes profile imageAUTHOR

      Theophanes Avery 

      4 years ago from New England

      Thank you epbooks! I had to dig quite a bit to find some of them. :)

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Interesting hub-never heard of these cases, but very thought- provoking!


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