Wildlife team in a flap after Castle Espie duck's disappearance is blamed on thieves
A duckling is believed to have been stolen from Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down - the same day it was released into its new habitat.
The duckling, worth up to £600, was one of five released into a dive tank at the centre on Monday morning.
It went missing some time between 3.30pm and 4.30pm that afternoon.
It is a Mandarin breed, one that is highly sought after and trades for hundreds of pounds due to its brightly coloured feathers.
That's why staff at the bird sanctuary believe it has been stolen. Animal care staff are appealing for anyone who has information - whether they know the whereabouts of the duckling or saw someone acting suspiciously - to contact the organisation.
Karl Simmonds, marketing manager at Castle Espie, said: "There's nowhere else the duckling could have gone.
"It's a sealed enclosure with no drainage and no doors, but it's possible for someone to reach over and lift one out.
"It's a small, but very loud, creature and we have combed the area - it's definitely been stolen."
Mandarin ducks require a special diet, so it is vital that the missing duckling is returned soon.
They are fed a specially formulated crumb containing all of the vitamins and nutrients they need to grow.
"Its food is also essential for feather development, which is particularly important in this species" explained Karl. "We invest a lot of time and effort into giving our visitors a wonderful experience at Castle Espie and we're saddened that someone would think of doing this," he said. An animal care team-member said in a post on Twitter: "We put our hearts into rearing all of our birds and it was devastating. We didn't jump to this conclusion, because they are tree ducks and they do enjoy climbing, but sadly there's no sign here.
"We would really appreciate it if anyone who saw something on Monday could let us know."
After the ducks were put into their tank just earlier that morning, they were checked on every hour.
The theft has been reported to police and officers are urging anyone who is offered a Mandarin duckling in suspicious circumstances or has any information to contact them on 101.