Thugs have smashed a 115,000,000-year-old dinosaur footprint with a hammer at a famous site in Australia.
The footprint of the meat-eating theropod was discovered by palaeontologists in 2006 at Flat Rocks in the state of Victoria, which is one of only a handful of ice-age dinosaur sites in the world.
Officials were alerted to the damage of the footprint a dinosaur footprint at the renowned Dinosaur Dreamingsite within the Bunurong Marine Park after a school group was taken to see it last week.
Vandals used an instrument to chip away at the toes of the print, which is around 30cm wide.
Upon the original discovery in 2006, palaeontologists from Museum Victoria and Monash University made a silicon rubber mould of the footprint. Rather than remove and store it at the Melbourne Museum, they decided it should be left in the rock, so visitors to the site could have the thrill of seeing it in its natural state.
The footprint before the damage
Parks Victoria said: "The significance of the footprint is that it represents a moment frozen in time when a meat-eating dinosaur stood on that spot and left an impression of its foot.
"It is sad to think a person or persons who knew the location of the footprint would deliberately damage an important local icon that is recognised as being of international scientific significance."
Mike Cleeland, from the Bunurong Environment Centre, said he hoped the footprint could be repaired to a certain extent.
He said: "The thrill of seeing a real dinosaur footprint has been diminished with the callous act of vandalism.
"Fortunately, I was able to retrieve some of the broken pieces of the footprint and hopefully the technicians at Museum Victoria may be able to restore the footprint to some degree."
Parks Victoria added: "It is quite disheartening for a site of such significance that attracts hundreds of people every year to the area has been damaged in such a careless manner.
"Parks Victoria will be investigating the matter further."