The desperate search for a young penguin apparently stolen from a zoo in Germany reached a horrifying end Thursday, when the bird's carcass turned up nearby -- reportedly beheaded.

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The Humboldt penguin vanished last Saturday from the Luisenpark in Mannheim. Officials there said all signs pointed to theft -- there was no indication the flightless bird escaped or was attacked by a wild animal.

The penguin's body appeared on a park fence near a parking lot, Metro reported. Police said they knew it was the missing animal, because it had a distinctive number 53 marked on its wing.

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Whoever snatched the penguin probably discarded it, according to investigators. They said it wasn't clear whether the bird was killed at the parking lot or beforehand.

Prosecutors were looking for possible witnesses, police spokesman Michael Klump said.

The zoo's director called the penguin's death the worst possible outcome. Joachim Koeltzsch said: "All of us are shocked about the death."

The zoo was home to about 20 Humboldt penguins in all, Deutsche Welle reported. Zookeepers first noticed the bird was missing during a routine count Saturday afternoon.

The penguin measured about 20 inches tall and weighed roughly 11 pounds.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.