Death Valley National Park is short some of its most important features: fossilized footprints. These footprints, between 3 and 5 million years old, were left behind by animals long since gone. These footprints, like all of the park’s features, are shared by all of us. But now, the fossils are gone.
The footprints were found in a lakebed near the border with Nevada, and investigators are doing everything they can to recover them. They’re calling on the public to help them find who did it.
“I’m sure they could be sold on the black market,” Linda Slater, the Death Valley National Park’s chief of interpretation, told Gizmodo in an interview. “But I have no idea what the value would be—the value is to the public. Like the National Parks, it’s something that belongs to all of us.”
The men photographed above are believed to be a part of the footprint heist. One of the men photographed carried with him a metal detector, which is a hobby forbidden in all national parks.
Scientists found the footprints missing last month while visiting the site. Authorities are interviewing people who have visited the park during the time they went missing.
“There’s a lot of people who really love Death Valley,” Slater said. “People are unhappy about it. There’s been a lot of vandalism or intentional desecration over parts of the park in the past few months.”
Hopefully the fossils can be recovered and returned to the park where we can continue to share them.
If you recognize the people photographed above, the National Parks Service asks that you call the Investigative Services Branch at 888-653-0009. There’s a reward of $1,000 if you have information leading to the recovery of the fossils.