Dallas Zoo alerts, including missing tamarins, have staff worried
The entire nation seemed captivated by the alleged theft of two emperor tamarins from the Dallas Zoo last week.
But no one was more worried about Bella and Finn than the zoo staff members, who were already nervous after a series of other disturbing incidents there.
There was a suspicious death of a vulture, enclosures were opened and a clouded leopard disappeared after the enclosures were tampered with. Things have also disappeared from the otter enclosure.
“We care deeply about these animals, so their safety is our number one priority,” said Lisa Van Slett, the zoo’s mammal curator.
Even though the leopard was found, the two monkeys recovered and a man was arrested and charged, “every day we kind of wonder: is something else going to happen, and what is the next step and where is it going?” said Van Slett.
Dallas police arrested 24-year-old Davion Irvin last week in connection with the alleged theft of the tamarind monkeys and the release of the clouded leopard. He faces six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of building burglary.
Police declined to discuss details of the investigation, including a possible motive.
The suspicious events began last month, when custodians discovered a four-foot-tall cut in the wire mesh where the langur monkeys live, Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president for care and welfare, told CNN. – to be animals.
“We also noticed that part of the climbing structure inside the habitat was broken and had literally collapsed, which made us think that an animal larger than a langur was was found here,” Edell said. Fortunately, none of these monkeys made it out.
Around the same time and just two exposures away, the darkened leopard habitat was opened and a female leopard named Nova emerged immediately, triggering what the zoo calls a “code blue.”
This brought out a Dallas Police SWAT team.
“Yeah, the SWAT team heard the word ‘leopard’ and they thought ‘leopard’ leopard,” Edell said.
The cat, however, weighs only 25 pounds, larger than a house cat, but smaller than a cougar.
The SWAT team used their high-tech drones to search for the leopard, but it was a very rudimentary squirrel that spotted Nova just 30 yards from the cat’s habitat.
One of the curators said, “Why is that squirrel so pissed off?” Edell called back. The squirrel had spotted the leopard, curled up in a cupboard in an unused habitat, looking outside, and the alarmed squirrel was “barking” a danger alert, he said.
Then, a lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead. Dallas police said the rare bird was injured. And then the rare emperor tamarins disappeared.
Edell called the incidents deeply disturbing and heartbreaking and said what zookeepers have witnessed over the past month has shaken them as some wonder if animal trafficking played a part.
“A lot of us in animal care at the zoo have gone to very dark places in our minds over the past month,” Edell said.
Staff members had many reasons to be concerned.
“Globally, the illegal pet trade is once again driving many animals toward extinction,” Daniel Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told CNN.
And while many think the problem exists in distant lands, it’s a problem here in the United States, Ashe and Edell said.
“Thousands and thousands of freshwater turtles and eastern box turtles and things like that” are shipped from the United States overseas, Ashe said.
And then there’s the issue of social media influencers and shows like “Tiger King” making it seem desirable to own an exotic pet, Edell said.
“I’m going to sound so old when I say that,” Edell said. “It doesn’t help that social media influencers think it’s cool to have this thing in your house.”
For Ashe, the Dallas Zoo incidents are an opportunity to educate the public about the downsides and dangers of removing an animal from its safe habitat.
“I think this is an opportunity to let people know that animals should be left alone in their homes,” Ashe said, “whether that home is nature, or whether that home is the Dallas Zoo or the zoo. from Central Park, they should be left alone in their homes where they are safe and comfortable.