Stolen bronze eel sculpture recovered

By Nikki Papatsoumas

The sculpture was severely damaged in the theft.
The sculpture was severely damaged in the theft.

A bronze sculpture of an eel worth $30,000 has been recovered from a scrap metal yard, after thieves tried to pawn it off for little more than $300.

The artwork titled 'Tuna,' was stolen from Auckland Botanic Gardens by thieves sometime on Sunday night.

The thieves had sawn through the bolts and removed the bronze part of the sculpture, which weighed an impressive 90 kilograms. Sergeant Jonathan Zeisler said on Monday morning the team at the Botanic Gardens had informed scrap metal merchants around south Auckland of the missing sculpture.

He said police received a call from a scrap metal yard, Metalman, in Takanini yesterday afternoon, after they saw photos of the sculpture and identified it as the missing artwork.

"They knew exactly what it was when it came to them," he said.

"We could not of asked for anything else. It was a great result."

He said when police arrived, two men were spoken to, and what remained of the sculpture was recovered.

Artist Bing Dawe said he was first told the sculpture was stolen on Monday morning.

"I was pretty upset for the sheer inconvenience of it, but also for the future of sculpture in the gardens and public sculpture in general."

He said people would be less likely to commission pieces in future if there was a chance they would be stolen.

The sculpture, which took him around six months to complete, would be returned to him to look over for repairs, he said.

Unfortunately its tail was detached and the fins were missing. The tail had been recovered alongside the sculpture.

"I will ascertain whether it's worth repairing or if I should melt it down and do a re-cast of it."

Rex McCamish from scrap metal yard McCamish Metals in Penrose said the scrap price for bronze is around $4 a kilogram, which means if successful, the thieves would have got away with just $360.

The sculpture was a popular feature of the 2013/14 Sculpture in the Gardens exhibition and was later purchased for the Gardens' permanent collection by the Friends of the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Auckland Botanic Gardens manager Jack Hobbs said staff were pleased to have the missing sculpture recovered, and they would look at putting security in place to make sure this didn't happen again.

"We're going to look at location, how it's attached so it can't just be removed by a hacksaw, and we're also looking at having some CCTV coverage."

Two men appeared in Papakura District Court today, both charged with theft, and were remanded on bail until their next court appearance.

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- NZ Herald

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