400 animal thefts in Lothian
Figures released to the Evening News reveal that more than 400 pets, farm animals and wildlife - including dogs, sheep, parrots and peregrine falcons - were snatched from homes and public spaces between April 2009 and July 2010.
The total haul, worth more than 75,000, is the most expensive collection of animals to have gone missing in over four years.
Most of the animals were taken from fields or back gardens, but a large number of dogs were grabbed after being tied up outside shops.
Some pets were snatched from homes when the owners were out or asleep, and pet shops and barns were also regularly targeted.
Around a quarter of the stolen animals were returned to their owners.
Individual thefts included 250 pheasants being taken from a pen, nine Koi carp being stolen from a flat and four Herman tortoises getting nabbed from a pet shop. Peregrine falcon chicks and eggs have also gone missing from quarries around the Capital.
Around 200 sheep were stolen from their field during the middle of the night and the pedigree greyhound was taken from a barn. It has since been returned to its owner.
Brian Stuart, head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, based in West Lothian, said animals were often stolen for lucrative black market trading. He said: "Exotic and expensive animals such as parrots and some dogs are often stolen to order.
"A few years ago the theft of peregrine falcon eggs decreased, but there has been an increase in these types of seizures. We are looking into three active enquiries at the moment. We caught one guy trying to smuggle 14 eggs abroad by hiding them to his chest."
He added that he feared an increased number of dogs, especially pit bulls, bulldogs and terrier-types, were being snatched for dog fights and badger baiting: "More dogs are being taken from outside shops and intelligence suggests they are being trained up for illegal activities such as dog fights, which are sadly on the rise."
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said the best way to ensure a stolen pet is returned is to get it microchipped.
'We were heartbroken'
Sharon King, 37, from Sighthill, had her three-year-old collie dog, Sasha, stolen from outside a shop five years ago. She was later thrown onto the M8 motorway near to Hermiston Gait retail park and killed.
She said: "It took me months to get over Sasha dying in such a horrific way. My son had taken Sasha for a walk down the shops and he'd tied her up for just five minutes. When he came out she wasn't there, so we called the police. A few weeks later we were heartbroken to find out what had happened. Two lads had stolen her, and then they'd left her to die on the road.
"I had to visit the doctors because I felt such a low depression. She was a lovely, placid wee dog.
"We got a dog a few months later because the kids were missing Sasha, but I still think of her."