HOLTSVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Police say they are investigating the theft of a wolf from an animal preserve in Holtsville, Long Island. Officials say the public is not at risk.

Concerned families were turned away from the Holtsville Ecology Center as the hunt for Nakita the wolf continues.

Suffolk police and SPCA investigators say it appears a rear lock was twisted and chain link fence compromised.

“What we know so far is that the animal was specifically targeted by someone familiar with how the enclosure works,” said Suffolk County Police Lieutenant Michael Lutz. “We had three fences that were cut through.”

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A Long Island family surrendered their 6-year-old wolf when the animal became aggressive. (Credit: CBS2)

Nikita was nowhere to be seen in her sanctuary home. The wolf arrived there last August when a Ronkonkoma family who bought her on the black market could no longer care for Nikita.

“These animals are by nature wild animals,” said DEC police lieutenant Tom Gadomski. “Yeah they might be friendly for a time, but at some point going to turn on you.”

Nikita’s original owners admitted buying her illegally as a weeks old pup. By the time the wolf turned six years old, she was becoming highly aggressive. They privately contacted the SPCA who arranged for Nikita to live at the ecology center.

“SPCA is offering a $5,000 reward for a safe return,” said Suffolk SPCA police chief Roy Gross.

Last August, families were eager to have Nikita arrive at the ecology center and make it her forever home.

“I think it ‘s better because they could eat you, but I would really hope they could put other wolves in here for a pack,” said 7-year-old Jace Power, last year when visiting the center.

Police have been searching by air and by foot with K-9, but if the wolf was stolen by a handler and driven away they admit Nikita could be anywhere right now.

The wolf had been domesticated and cannot live on its own in the wild. She is not considered a threat to the public.

Staff at the ecology center are asking anyone with knowledge of the theft to contact them anonymously.