PERRIS, Calif. -- A chaotic scene unfolded at an exotic animal farm near the city of Perris, where investigators believe someone intentionally freed several animals that were found running near a busy roadway.
About 30 llamas were stolen Monday from the 14-acre property that residents say has been targeted on social media.
James Aiken lives across from the farm. He said he woke to find animals wandering around.
"When I woke up, I looked out my window and saw the llamas running down street here, and I thought that's kind of strange," he said.
Riverside County sheriff's deputies and animal control officers helped to corral the animals after the pre-dawn heist. Shortly after, authorities discovered that someone had cut the lock to the fence and the llamas had been loaded onto a truck.
"We are missing, my boss tells me, about $1.6 million worth of animals," one worker said.
The private farm draws people in to see the animals, which includes emus and ostriches, but it has also attracted the attention of people who allege the owner is mistreating the animals.
Riverside County Animal Services said it had made several visits to the property after receiving complaints, and evidence of mistreatment was unfounded.
"We have actually done a full walk through, we cannot see any evidence of neglect or abuse," said John Welsh with Riverside County Animal Services.
One of the property's caretakers spoke to Eyewitness News, despite having throat cancer, just so he could set the record straight.
"People started coming screaming at us because they are saying our animals are being mistreated and not fed and not watered. That's not true," Mike Penwell said.
While there is no violation concerning the animals' health, Riverside County said it's working with the property owner to clean up some land use violations.
Llama heist under investigation at exotic animal farm in Perris