Law enforcement officials say cattle theft is on the rise. A livestock specialist with the University of Missouri says Southwest Missouri continues to be a growing problem.

Livestock specialist Eldon Cole with the University of Missouri Extension says that cattle theft in areas between Joplin and Springfield is a big problem — and only getting worse.

He says most thieves snatch the animals in the middle of the night with a motive for money and profit. Cole says most cattle thieves are after feeding cattle that weigh between 500 to 750 pounds and are valued at a minimum of $800.

“Cattle being at a pretty decent price right now, with a little bit of effort, they seem to be able to pick up between 12 to 15 heads (of cattle) whenever they strike,” Cole said.

Cole says within the last year, cattle theft has seemed to ramp up, even in other states.

“Primarily to the west of Missouri, and here it seems to be a little bit more of a hot spot than in some of these others,” he said. “Some of the other states have lost significant numbers more so than we have from any one group.”

He adds that cattle industry experts in Southwest Missouri say there has been nearly 1,000 cattle stolen from their owners in the past 12 to 15 months.

AUDIO: Mary Farucci reports. (1:10)