MONTREAL — The net is being cast wide for two camels and a tiger that were stolen last week in an incident that is drawing international attention as far away as Australia.
U.S. border crossings and weigh stations around Quebec have been alerted to watch out for the trailer containing them. Zoos have been contacted to see if anyone has tried to sell the animals.
The theft of the tiger and camels has gotten international media attention on news websites around the world including India, Africa, New Zealand and Britain’s BBC.
Concern is high for one of the beasts — a three-year-old tiger named Jonas, whose life could be in danger if he’s not getting water.
Stefanie MacEwan, head keeper at the zoo in Bomanville, Ont., which owns the animals, said Monday it’s “extremely critical” the tiger get fluids.
“It’s been over 72 hours right now and his body is slowly starting to shut down.”
If the tiger is dehydrated, she said, “his mental state is not stable and his kidneys are beginning to shut down.”
The camels are biologically built to withstand extreme conditions and can go up to 10 days without having any water, MacEwan said.
A massive search was launched by Quebec provincial police after the animals were reported stolen on Friday.
“We’ve checked all the tips we’ve received,” said Sgt. Ronald McInnis of the Quebec provincial police.
The truck and trailer transporting them from Nova Scotia was snatched from a motel parking lot in rural Quebec when its driver took a break from the long voyage to the Ontario zoo.
The truck was later found but not the trailer.
Dozens of police and a helicopter were brought in to search the region, checking barns and other buildings that could conceal the animals.
Quebec zoos were also contacted to see if anyone had tried to sell the ill-gotten animals, which have microchip identification tags.
Animal-trafficking is one possible motive being explored by police. However, it’s never been cited as the leading theory for why the thieves took the trailer.
“We don’t know exactly why they stole them,” said McInnis. “Did they want only the trailer? Is it for the animals? We don’t know.
“We made some checks with the zoos, with Granby and Hemmingford,” he added, but those parks had not been approached so far.
Police and MacEwan acknowledged there were no new leads and doubted the case involved exotic animal theft. MacEwan said police told her U.S. border crossings had been alerted, along with Quebec truck weigh stations.
“Both ourselves and the police out in Quebec believe that it wasn’t actually for the animals,” MacEwan said.
“(We think) they were looking to steal the truck and the trailer and got a surprise. Then they got in over their heads not knowing what to do with the animals next.”
Ernie Cooper, the director of traffic and wildlife trade for World Wildlife Fund Canada, said usually when exotic animals are stolen in Canada, it’s reptiles, exotic amphibians, birds, tarantulas or monkeys.
“All these are animals that are small enough that you could put it under your coat or in a bag,” he said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. “I can’t think of the last time I heard of a full-grown tiger being stolen.”
MacEwan said the public has also been calling to say they’ve been driving around to look for the animals or to offer support.
“We’ve had emails from as far as Australia and England.”
MacEwan said she works with the animals every day and the thought of them not being at the zoo is “heartbreaking.”
“The tiger is absolutely a sweetheart. We’ve raised him since he was about five or six weeks old. He was bottle-fed at 3 a.m. by all of us — the trainers and keepers here — including our maintenance staff.
“The camels — they’re great camels. They give rides to children and they enjoy doing that. They’re great animals.
“They’re part of our family.”