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A real zoodunit: Missing monkeys deepen mystery in Dallas

DALLAS (AP) — When police said two small monkeys were taken from the Dallas Zoo this week and a cut was found in their enclosure, it deepened a growing mystery that has included other cut fences, the escape of a small leopard and the suspicious death of an endangered vulture.

Police said Tuesday that they’re still working to determine whether or not the incidents over the last few weeks are related. Police, who haven’t made any arrests in any of the incidents, released a photo and video Tuesday of a man they want to talk to about the missing monkeys.

The photo shows the man eating Doritos chips while walking, and in the video clip he is walking down a path.

Here’s what is known so far about the incidents:

WHAT HAS HAPPENED AT THE ZOO?

The zoo closed Jan. 13 after workers arriving that morning found that the clouded leopard, named Nova, was missing. After a search that included police, the leopard weighing 20-25 pounds (9-11 kilograms) was found later that day near her habitat.

Police said a cutting tool was intentionally used to make the opening in her enclosure. A similar gash also was found in an enclosure for langur monkeys, though none got out or appeared harmed, police said.

On Jan. 21, an endangered lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead by arriving workers. Gregg Hudson, the zoo’s president and CEO, called the death “very suspicious” and said the vulture had “a wound,” but declined to give further details.

Hudson said in a news conference following Pin’s death that the vulture enclosure didn’t appear to be tampered with.

On Monday police said two emperor tamarin monkeys were believed to have been taken after someone cut an opening in their enclosure. The zoo said the monkeys — which have long whiskers that look like a mustache — would most likely stay near their habitat, but that a search of zoo grounds failed to find them.

WHAT COULD BE THE MOTIVE IN TAKING THE MONKEYS?

Lynn Cuny, founder and president of Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Kendalia, Texas, said she wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out the monkeys were taken to be sold. Depending on the buyer, she said, a monkey like the ones taken could be sold for “several thousands” of dollars.

“Primates are high-dollar animals in the wildlife pet trade in this country,” Cuny said. “Everybody that wants one wants one for all the wrong reasons — there’s never any good reason to have any wild animal as a pet.”

She said the monkeys could be in danger in a variety of ways, from an improper diet to exposure to cold. Temperatures in Dallas dipped into the 20s on Tuesday during a winter storm.

“Hopefully the animals will be found and protected, but this is a terrible thing,” she said.

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE VULTURE?

Pin’s death has been hard on the staff, a zoo official said.

The vulture was “a beloved member of the bird department,” according to Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president for animal care and conservation.

Speaking at a news conference, Edell said Pin was at least 35 years old and had been at the zoo for 33 years. “A lot of our teams have worked closely with him for all of that time,” Edell said.

Pin, one of four lappet-faced vultures at the zoo, was said to have sired 11 offspring, and his first grandchild hatched in early 2020.

Edell said Pin’s death was not only a personal loss but also a loss for the species, which “could potentially go extinct in our lifetime.”

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT SECURITY?

Hudson, the zoo’s CEO, said in a news conference following Pin’s death that normal operating procedures included over 100 cameras to monitor public, staff and exhibit areas, and that number had been increased. Overnight presence of security and staff was also raised.

Where possible, he said, zoo officials limited the ability of animals to go outside overnight.

After Nova went missing, officials said they had reviewed surveillance video but not what it showed.

The zoo was closed Tuesday and Wednesday due to the storm.

HAVE THERE BEEN OTHER INCIDENTS IN THE PAST?

In 2004, a 340-pound (154-kilogram) gorilla named Jabari jumped over a wall and went on a 40-minute rampage that injured three people before police shot and killed the animal.

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Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report from Austin, Texas.