Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Star tortoises
found at church

A Central Union worker discovers
the three stolen creatures

Three star tortoises stolen from the Honolulu Zoo last month were recovered by a custodian at Central Union Church on South Beretania Street yesterday morning.

Three stolen Geochelone elegans star tortoises were recovered yesterday morning at Central Union Church. Star tortoises are recognizable by the starlike pattern on their shells.

Church officials said the custodian was cleaning the Atherton Chapel sometime before 9 a.m. when she noticed a package that was not there when she first arrived. Inside several layers of packages was a box containing the three tortoises.

"It was this strange paper bag that suddenly appeared," said Michele Beloungie, church receptionist. "We're sure it wasn't there from the night before.

"At first we thought that maybe one of the preschool kids brought it for show and tell and perhaps left it there ... but for sure someone must have left it there while she was cleaning."

Beloungie said that sometime later, church officials recognized the tortoises as the ones reported stolen by Honolulu CrimeStoppers and called zoo officials. Police said on Nov. 29, someone had sliced the screen cage area where the three Geochelone elegans star tortoises were kept and took them, then left several other kinds of tortoises behind to take their place.

Star tortoises are recognizable by the starlike patterns on their shells and have very specific markings, according to police. Honolulu Zoo officials have since identified the tortoises as the same ones that were taken and returned them to the zoo. The tortoises were dirty but otherwise fine.

"Those were exactly the same tortoises they were looking for," said CrimeStoppers Detective Letha DeCaires. "There's no mistake."


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