Ōmokoroa residents are in shock after the theft of a community icon.

The 2m tall wooden lizard sculpture that has welcomed motorists at the entrance to the Western Bay peninsula since 2016 went missing on Friday.

The artwork was commissioned by the Omokoroa Public Art Group and many local people contributed to the $13,000 cost.

Public Art Group member Janine Birch said that five days after the theft, there was still no sign of the lizard - and the community was "up in arms".

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She said whoever took it had to cut through the 14mm thick steel bars that attached the lizard to its rock.

After seeing the empty rock face, Birch phoned Rotorua sculptor Warwick Lilley hoping he had uplifted the lizard to fix a front foot that was broken off in December.

He said he hadn't but was working with half an arm curing to put the lizard's broken foot back on.

"I felt sick on Saturday. I just loved it," Birch said.

Omokoroa Public Art Group members Stella Clark, Christine Wright, Janine Birch, Pam Robinson and Margaret Hooten with the lizard when it was unveiled in 2016. Photo / File
Omokoroa Public Art Group members Stella Clark, Christine Wright, Janine Birch, Pam Robinson and Margaret Hooten with the lizard when it was unveiled in 2016. Photo / File

As well as local businesses and individuals, funds for the artwork were also contributed by the Wright Family Foundation, Ōmokoroa Community Board and Western Bay of Plenty District Council.

The original concept of a lizard portraying the spirit and shape of the Ōmokoroa peninsula came from Pamela Robinson in 2011.

Birch said after the sculpture was installed, local people quickly embraced the lizard as a symbol of the community.

Ōmokoroa Community Board chairman Murray Grainger said driving back into Ōmokoroa, the lizard was a real "welcome home" icon.

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"To think that there are those in New Zealand who consider hack-sawing through the steel mounting pins and carrying away public property like our lizard is despicable.

"The lizard, like all the public artworks in Ōmokoroa, was funded from public donations with support from the Ōmokoroa Community Board.

"We are shocked and saddened by the theft of our lizard," he said.

The rock looking bare without the wooden lizard. Photo / File
The rock looking bare without the wooden lizard. Photo / File

A police spokeswoman said she was not aware that an official complaint had been laid.

A member of the public who called on Friday was referred to the Western Bay council, she said.

A complaint of theft needed to be laid by the victim of the crime, which would be the owner of the statue, she said.

It took Lilley around 100 hours to complete the sculpture.

Carved from Himalayan cedar, it represented the shape of the land rolling down to the sea when observed by early Māori from the Kaimai Range.


CAN YOU HELP?

Anyone with information about what happened to the lizard or its whereabouts can contact Janine Birch on 07 548 1193.

- Additional reporting Samantha Motion