A Humboldt penguin stolen from a zoo in the city of Mannheim on Saturday has been found dead, German police say.
They say the bird's body was found near a car park and was identified by the number 53 on its wing.
Some German media reports say the penguin was decapitated.
The penguin's body is now being examined by veterinary surgeons, reports say, with police ruling out suggestions it was killed by a wild animal such as a fox or a bird of prey.
A full scale hunt for the perpetrator has begun.
Staff at the sanctuary from where the bird disappeared are devastated by news of its death, Spiegel online (in German) reported.
They had been searching for the bird ever since it disappeared, even draining the pond of the enclosure to check that it had not died on site.
Humboldt penguins are thought to be declining in number. One of the reasons is thought to be due to the El Nino weather pattern, which is increasing water temperatures and reducing their food supply.
They breed on the Pacific coast of South America and the offshore islands of Chile and Peru.
BBC Nature - Humboldt penguin videos, news and facts