A pair of rare Australian cockatoos valued at $20,000 have been stolen from their cage in the San Diego Zoo, and officials have alerted collectors of rare birds to be on the lookout for anyone trying to sell them.
The so-called "gang-gang cockatoos," the only such birds on exhibit at the zoo, were taken after someone cut mesh wiring in the back of the enclosure and then pried open the cage door, zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said Saturday.
"There were not many feathers in the cage," Jouett said. "So there was not much of a struggle. They (the abductor or abductors) most likely knew what they were doing."
Jouett said the cage was reported empty about 3:30 p.m. by a zookeeper. Another keeper on duty earlier in the day told zoo officials that the cage was empty Friday morning but he had not reported it because he thought the birds had been moved, Jouett said.
It is unclear when the birds were stolen, Jouett said.
Jouett said that if done during the day, the theft must have been carried out by one or more persons dressed as zoo employees to have gone undetected by zoo visitors.
He said the cage, in Benchley Plaza in the central part of the zoo, is in a heavily traveled area near the panda exhibit, which closes this week.
"No one reported seeing anything," Jouett said.
The 5-year-old birds are gray. The female's chest, however, is highlighted by red feathers with a gray crest, while the male has a bright red head and a red crest. Jouett said each bird is about the size of a large pigeon.
San Diego police are investigating. Meanwhile, zoo officials have alerted collectors of rare birds.
"They are rarely found in zoos or in private collections," Jouett said. "So if someone turns up with birds like this, it's pretty obvious where they got them."
Jouett said the birds are especially valuable because Australia prohibits the export of parrots.
The theft was the zoo's first this year. Last year, Jouett said, four boa constrictors were stolen and later recovered.