Tortoises 'worth £20,000' stolen from breeder's garden
Twenty valuable tortoises have been stolen from a breeder in what an expert said is the largest theft of its kind in the UK.
The collection - worth up to £20,000 - was targeted by thieves in the early hours of Wednesday.
They made off with 17 rare Marginated and three Spur-thighed tortoises which were kept in the garden of the owner's home.
John Hayward, of the National Theft Register, which monitors animal losses around the country, said it was the "highest value and most substantial" tortoise theft he has recorded.
The victim of the burglary, who is from the Reigate and Banstead area of Surrey and did not wish to be identified, said she felt "completely shocked".
She said she had been working on the breeding programme for 25 years.
"I expect they are worth somewhere between £15,000 and £20,000 but that doesn't really come into it. I don't think about the cost, I am just a breeder.
"It's the time and effort to get them to this breeding plan. I just feel completely shocked that a whole breeding programme has been obliterated."
She said the tortoises that were stolen had an average age of between 60 and 80 years old. One was over 100.
The woman said the theft appeared to have been organised and she fears the animals may have been stolen to order.
She said: "The thieves got in through the back. They screwed off the bolt on the big double doors and came in and took them. There was no damage at all.
"There was not a lot of noise. We have dogs and they didn't hear anything. I didn't hear anything."
Surrey Police have appealed for information about the theft.
The force said: "Some of the animals measured around 1.5ft in diameter so a vehicle would have been required to transport them away."
"If you have any information about their whereabouts or if you're offered a tortoise for sale in strange circumstances, please call Surrey Police."