Three men have been arrested in South Africa for stealing a 2.5-meter (8-feet) long Nile crocodile worth about $1,300 from a farm in the North West province, police said Monday.
The men, who are all aged between 20 and 35, are believed to have used a pick-up truck to take the animal from a crocodile farm in the Hartbeesfontein area about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of Johannesburg.
The crocodile was found tied up with rope and wire in an abandoned farmhouse. The men had covered it up with tree branches in an attempt to hide it, police said. Police also found the pick-up truck. The men were arrested last week and are due to appear in court on Monday.
Police are investigating how they managed to get the large crocodile out of the farm, which had secure fencing, police spokeswoman Col. Adele Myburgh said.
"How did they slip this animal out?" she said. "It's not a baby crocodile by any means."
Myburgh said the crocodile was badly dehydrated when it was found by a team of police officers and animal conservation officials.
The crocodile has been "returned to its rightful owner," police said. They released a photo of it swimming in its pool at the farm.
While South Africa has a problem with poaching, crocodiles are not normally targeted because of how dangerous they are.
Myburgh said that the motive of the theft was still under investigation but crocodile body parts like the skin, nails and teeth do have value and the men might have been planning to kill the animal and sell its parts.