The deaths are under investigation because of the "unusual type of incident and the protected status of the animals," according to British police
British police have begun investigating the deaths of seven tortoises that were found dead in a forest in a span of one week.
The reptiles, believed to be Aldabra giant tortoises, were found in Ashclyst Forest in Devon county, the Devon and Cornwall Police said in a news release on Tuesday.
Two of the tortoises — which are classified as “vulnerable” by the World Wildlife Fund — were found in the forest on Jan. 8, while the other five were discovered nearby on Jan. 12, police said.
Britain’s National Trust, which owns the forest land, said that the latter five were found near the entrance of the forest, the BBC reported.
The National Trust also said its teams were “horrified” to find the dead animals, who have since been removed from the forest, per the BBC.
“Enquiries are under way to identify the owners and establish the circumstances that led to the animals being disposed of,” police said, adding that they are investigating the circumstances because of “the unusual type of incident and the protected status of the animals.”
Police are also asking anyone with information related to the animals to come forward.
“We are appealing to members of the public for information to try to establish the circumstances around this discovery and to identify those responsible,” Police Inspector Mark Arthurs wrote in the release. “We would ask that if anyone knows anything, they get in touch.”
Added Arthurs: “We would also like to hear from anyone who has recently purchased a giant tortoise in the area or knows of anyone who normally has a large number of tortoises but has fewer now.”
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One of the world's largest land tortoises, Aldabra giant tortoises are native to Aldabra Island in Seychelles, an island nation northeast of Madagascar, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
Members of the species — which holds the record for the largest free-roaming tortoise ever recorded at 672 pounds — can reach sizes of up to 550 pounds, per the institute. They can also live to be over 150 years of age.
Peter Labdon, a Devon local who makes frequent visits to Ashclyst Forest, told the BBC that the animals’ deaths are “horrifying” and “a dreadful shame” — especially “considering the length of time that they can live.”
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