Police in eastern China arrested two men and are looking for a third who allegedly broke off a 4 million-year-old stalactite in 30 seconds before taking it from the cave where it had been on display.
Surveillance camera footage taken in the Natural Underground Gallery in Yishui county, Shandong province, on April 21 showed three men taking turns to hit the stalactite with a rock to break it off, news site Iqilu.com reported on Tuesday.
"We call that part of the stalactite the Lovebird, and Geography of China, a programme on China Central Television, came last year specially to report on the Lovebird," Yang Feng, an executive at the gallery, told Shandong Business Daily.
"[The men] took a large rock to break the stalactite and caused serious damage. Now the tail of the Lovebird is gone."
Yang said he could not put a monetary value on the stalactite because it took millions of years to form.
The vandals also damaged other parts of the gallery, surveillance footage showed.
The damage to the Lovebird was not discovered until the next day, when a tour guide reported that its tail was missing.
Yang said the damaged stalactite was less than 20cm long and 10cm wide. The gallery did not call the police until Saturday, after a geologist they consulted told them it would take millions of years for the missing section to grow back.
"We are outraged. The stalactite is precious for geological study but worth nothing to most people because the part that has been broken off will darken and become an ordinary stone," Yang said.
In 2017, a man was caught on camera destroying a 50cm stalagmite in a cave in Songtao county, Guizhou province.
The man made three attempts to kick the stalagmite on the side of the main path in the cave and eventually knocked off a 30cm tip. He then walked away without taking it, the footage showed.
The scenic attraction's administrators contacted police, who found the man and fined him 500 yuan (S$101).
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.