creature capers

The Hunt Is on to Find the Dallas Zoo Bandit

Photo: Shakfat Anowar/AP

It’s the most confounding event to rock the Dallas–Fort Worth area in 60 years. Over the past month, a series of break-ins have terrorized the residents of the Dallas Zoo with enclosures cut open, an animal killed, and two monkeys stolen. Weeks after the crime spree began, police finally say they found the culprit.

The tumult began January 13, when the zoo reported that a clouded leopard named Nova was missing from its habitat. The endangered cat was in her enclosure as of 1 a.m., but zookeepers knew she was missing after they found a “suspicious” tear in the mesh fencing surrounding her enclosure. The police were called and the zoo remained closed that day as they searched for the 25-pound leopard, which was found safe and returned by sundown.

“It was clear that this opening wasn’t habitat failure, wasn’t exhibit failure, and it wasn’t keeper error,” the zoo’s president said. The cuts to the clouded-leopard area weren’t the only compromised enclosures: On January 14, the Dallas Police Department reported that the langur-monkey habitat was also cut into, though the primates didn’t get out.

The next target wasn’t so lucky. On the other side of the 106-acre zoo, a lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead with what the zoo called a “suspicious” wound. Zoo officials said they could not share information surrounding the endangered bird’s death during the police investigation into the matter, but they noted that the zoo had boosted overnight security and added more cameras between the leopard escape and the vulture’s death.

Then came the strangest break-in of all: On January 30, the zoo announced that someone had “intentionally compromised” the habitat of the emperor tamarin monkeys and apparently stole two of the little bearded guys.

Zoo break-ins are uncommon but not unheard of. In 1986, eight animals were stolen from the Central Park Zoo including a boa constrictor and a yellow-headed parrot that could say, “Let’s go, Mets.” (In 1998, another parrot was grabbed from the Central Park Zoo by a man who said he “wanted to make stew out of that bird.”) And over the weekend, a dozen squirrel monkeys were taken from the 45-acre Zoosiana outside Lafayette, Louisiana, about a seven-hour drive from the Dallas Zoo. “The coincidence is a little concerning,” said Ed Hansen, CEO of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

“When someone takes an animal from a zoo, they quickly find that, no pun intended, they bit off more than they can chew,” Hansen added. “These are endangered species with a specialized diet — they’re not a regular house cat. Usually, people realize they can’t handle them and turn them loose.”

With the Dallas Zoo closed through Thursday because of icy weather, the police released a photo of a man eating Doritos who may be connected with the disappearance of the monkeys. “In this way, it’s really not different than any other crime,” said Hansen. “Eventually someone makes a mistake and gets caught.”

Thankfully, the emperor tamarin monkeys have been found: After receiving a tip, Dallas police found the two primates on Tuesday evening in a closet in an unoccupied home in Lancaster, Texas, about 15 miles from the zoo. The zoo said in a statement that the monkeys, Finn and Bella, “show no signs of injury.” According to the Dallas Morning News, the pastor of the Family Center Church of God in Christ in Lancaster informed the police that the monkeys were in the community house next to the church, along with some cats and birds. The pastor says that the house had been broken into in December.

On February 2, police arrested 24-year-old Davion Irvin, who is now facing five counts of animal cruelty non-livestock. It does not appear that he has entered a plea. Dallas police arrested Irvin after they received a tip that said he was at the Dallas World Aquarium looking at the animal exhibits.

The Hunt Is on to Find the Dallas Zoo Bandit