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Brazen Burglar Pulls Off Daring Heist Of 18 Expensive Ceramic Tiger Statues

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A cat burglar is on the loose, only this time the robber is literally stealing big cats.

Ceramic tiger sculptures worth a fortune were stolen from a Gramercy Park townhouse and no one suspected a thing, CBS 2's Vanessa Murdock reported Wednesday.

The scene was worthy of a photo -- a flatbed trailer loaded with 18 ceramic tigers. The only problem was the tigers -- some worth more than $50,000 each -- were being stolen while unknowing neighbors snapped pictures.

"I couldn't believe it. Look how big they are," a neighbor said.

The stolen tigers were supposed to be part of the "Tiger Parade," which aims to raise awareness about the decline of the world's tiger population. Paolo Zampolli is the founder.

"There are only 3,200 wildlife tigers in the world," Zampolli said.

The tigers were stolen from his property on East 17th Street. He said his chief of staff reported the news.

"Mr. Zampolli, tigers are missing. What do you mean? The lock was broken and the tigers are missing," Zampolli said, recounting the conversation.

Some of the stolen tigers were decorated by artists, who donated their time and talent. Peter T. Tunney created "Truth" and "Beauty."  He said he poured his heart and soul into them, knowing the money from their sale would go to saving the species. When asked about the theft, he told CBS 2's Murdock, "A curious case indeed.  I have a feeling there is more to this story than meets the eye. It could be an interesting caper. As they say, only in New York City!"

Truth and Beauty are valued at $150,000 each, but for the man who started the Tiger Parade, the statues are priceless.

"To me they're worth my heart. I love tigers, my son loves tigers," Tunney said.

CBS 2's Murdock asked Zampolli what he hopes the future holds for the cat burglar.

"I want him to go to jail, return the tigers and maybe stay in a cage with the tigers," Zampolli said.

The hope is that all 18 tigers will be returned and auctioned off when the weather warms. Money raised will go to the World Tiger Fund.

Zampolli said he believes he knows who's responsible, but no arrests have been made.

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