By Patrick McGroarty
Babe normally lives in an enclosure near the entrance to Wihelma, Stuttgart's zoo and botanical park. She disappeared from the pen that she shares with 54 tuxedoed companions sometime on Tuesday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Zookeepers noticed quickly, said Isabel Koch, a staff zoologist, because Babe is a particularly gregarious penguin.
"She was there when zookeepers visited in the morning, and by early afternoon she was gone," Koch told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Many visitors must have passed the penguin display as they entered the zoo on Tuesday, Koch said, but so far no one has stepped forward with details about Babe's abduction.
"She couldn't have walked out with so many people around, but it would't be so difficult to carry her away," said Koch. "She's just the size of a sack of flour."
Investigators suspect an abduction because they don't believe the flightless bird could have climbed the enclosure fence, which is more than four-and-a-half feet high. Babe is about 35 centimeters (just over a foot) tall.
A spokesman for the Stuttgart police department told SPIEGEL ONLINE that detectives hadn't ruled out any motives or suspects, but that they also had no concrete leads.
"We're not sure why a thief would want to steal a penguin in Germany, since there is no black market here for stolen penguins," said Florian Suckal, the police spokesman. "I couldn't even guess what the thief could earn for her."
Both the police department and the zoo have appealed to the unknown abductor to return the penguin promptly -- they warn that Babe could soon die without the care of trained zookeepers.
Knut, Snowflake… Wilbär?
Wilhelma made headlines a second time this week when it announced Thursday that it had entered Germany's polar bear breeding craze with a cuddly cub of its own. A cub named Wilbär -- a hybrid of the zoo's name and the German word for "bear" -- was born at the zoo in December but kept a secret from the press until this week.
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