Nature center reports cockroach, geckos among wildlife stolen

If you see a Madagascar hissing cockroach, call Baltimore police.

The same goes for six turtles (one Eastern box, two northern maps and three red-ear sliders), two geckos (a gargoyle and a tangerine flat-tail) and a beloved 3-foot-long iguana named Zena.

These are among the exotic wildlife stolen over the weekend during a break in at the city's Carrie Murray Nature Center in West Baltimore's Leakin Park, according to a police report filed Monday. Most of the animals were donated to the center after having been abused.

The preserve, named after the mother of Orioles great Eddie Murray, who funded the center, helps educate youth and others about a variety of animals — from insects to hawks and beavers to songbirds — and helps rehabilitate injured birds of prey. Naturalists use the animals as examples to teach responsible pet ownership to children, seniors and anyone else who visits.

Naturalist P.J. Boyce said the iguana was a particular favorite of children, who came often from nearby neighborhoods to visit. Zena, she said, had been abused by a former owner who cut off some of her toes and burned her with a heat lamp before releasing her, upon which she got hit by a car and lost part of her tail.

Some visiting children began to cry when they learned of Zena's disappearance, Boyce said. She added that the iguana requires daily calcium injections, and may become sick without them.

"Kids came in today and they all have their favorites," she said. "If their favorite is not there, they ask about it."

City police say they have no suspects in the break-in, which occurred sometime between 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:17 a.m. Monday.

A naturalist, who was not identified in the police report, told police that he had "locked and made sure the center was secured" when he left Saturday, but returned Monday to find the front and back doors unlocked and mulch from the cockroach cage covering the floor.

"There are no suspects at this time," the report says. It adds that was is no evidence of a forced entry. The report says that service for the center's alarm system has been suspended for more than two years. Police estimated the total loss of $762.

The most expensive animal missing is the eastern box turtle, valued at $150. The tangerine flat-tail gecko is valued at $100, and the gargoyle gecko is worth $85.

Also missing are 10 beige Smoky Bear T-shirts, one black Carrie Murray T-shirt, a box of rubber bands and two sets of keys.

Boyce said she thinks teens broke in, because the types of animals stolen were the ones most suitable as pets.

"They were not our most expensive," she said. "These were the animals people think [of] as cool."

Boyce also noted that some of the animals, such as owls and hawks, bite. "We have some critters who could've really hurt" the people who broke in, she said.

The Madagascar hissing cockroaches are not part of the center's general population, but are sold in boxes in the gift shop for $10. According to National Geographic, the hissing cockroach is shiny brown in color and oval-shaped, and can grow up to three inches long. They also have horns, which the magazine's website says "gives them an impressive appearance."

But they may not like Baltimore. National Geographic says they "are not pests and do not inhabit human dwellings. These insects live on forest floors, where they hide amidst leaf litter, logs, and other detritus. At night, they become more active and scavenge for meals, feeding primarily on fruit or plant materials."

Naturalists say they are popular as pets.

Boyce said that after police left, workers discovered another animal to be missing — a baby corn snake.

Thieves broke into the center before, in 1999, and staff members were never able to recover the pet that was stolen.

Boyce recalled Sophia, the brown and yellow leopard tortoise that was taken. Despite a $100 reward, she said, "we never saw it again."

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