THIEVES helped themselves to an unusual souvenir from a children’s play centre.
Frederick the leopard gecko disappeared from his tank at Adventure Valley, Durham, on Thursday.
Now staff at the centre, near Brasside, are appealing for him to be returned.
Yellow and black spotted Fred, who originates from East Asia, was reported missing as keepers carried out checks at the end of the day.
He was last seen an hour earlier at 3pm, basking in his heated vivarium in the reptile hut.
It is thought his rest was disturbed when vandals forced their way inside the locked tank and carried him off.
Fred, who is about 15cm long, needs temperatures of about 32°C to survive – about 28°C hotter than the current climate in the UK.
Staff say there is no way the gecko could have turned Houdini to escape.
They are doubly concerned, as he has battled health problems since arriving at Adventure Valley about a year ago.
Animal advisor Andrew Garthwaite appealed for the safe return of Frederick, who is one of 25 reptiles living at the former farm.
He said: “His health will start to go downhill quite rapidly.
“Before we got him, he hadn’t had the best start in life and is a very poor eater.
“He needs a lot of assistance from staff. You do get a lot of problems with some reptiles.
“It’s almost as if they don’t have the natural instinct to eat.”
Unfortunately, the reptile hut is not covered by CCTV, so workers have no way of tracing the gecko snatcher.
Instead, it is hoped they will do the right thing, and bring Fred home.
Andrew added: “Frederick is part of the Adventure Valley family.
“The main thing we are concerned about are his problems with eating and when he sheds his skin. Out of all the geckos we have, he is the one who needs the most care and attention.”
Adventure Valley, which has been open for nearly three years, has seven play zones, including a go-kart race track, outdoor activity centre and wildlife sanctuary.
A spokeswoman for Durham Constabulary confirmed the theft had been reported and officers were investigating.