Thieves steal dinosaur on loan to Australia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 12:00am

Australian museum officials praised the 'understanding attitude' of their Chinese counterparts yesterday after a rare, 110-million- year-old dinosaur skeleton on loan from a museum in Beijing was stolen.

Officials at the Newcastle Regional Museum, 150km north of Sydney, announced a A$5,000 (HK$25,000) reward for the safe return of the skeleton, a prime example of a midget dinosaur known as Psittacosaurus mongoliensis.

Thieves broke into the museum early on Sunday morning, smashing a laminated security window and removing the dog-sized skeleton from its display stand.

Despite tripping an alarm, they managed to elude security staff and police.

The 60cm-long specimen was one of several dinosaur skeletons on loan from the Beijing Natural History Museum as part of an exhibition tracing the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

Curator Julie Baird admitted that the theft was a major embarrassment but said she was relieved that museum officials in Beijing had given their permission for the exhibition to continue.

'They've been very understanding,' she said. 'They're not going to pull all the dinosaurs off the tour or anything.'

She said the reward was 'definitely more than you would get if you were trying to sell a psittacosaurus in a pub', and appealed for the thieves to return the skeleton, regardless of whether it was damaged.

'We just really would like to get this back, it's a very important thing for us,' she said.

The dinosaur, one of only half a dozen in the world, has a beak-like skull. Psittacosaurus was a distant ancestor of the three-horned tricerotops.

The museum's director, Gavin Fry, said whoever was behind the theft appeared to know little about dinosaurs.

He said other skeletons in the exhibit were more valuable and of greater scientific interest, and the theft may have been an opportunistic prank.