The owners and staff of Zoosiana are reeling after at least one thief broke into the zoo and stole a dozen squirrel monkeys over the weekend.
Matt Oldenburg, general manager of Zoosiana, said the stolen monkeys, about one-third of the zoo’s total squirrel monkey population, are well loved by staff and their disappearance has greatly upset their team.
“Our animal care process here is very thorough and significant, and with that you build a strong rapport and care and even love for these animals. They become an extended part of your family…Before long they really, really matter to you. It’s incredibly upsetting. They’re a part of our family. Above all else we’re just very upset and would love for the monkeys to be returned,” he said.
Broussard Police Chief Vance Olivier said the theft was discovered Sunday morning around 10:30 a.m. as zoo staff checked on the animals. Investigators determined the fencing around the monkeys’ habitat was cut, allowing someone access to the enclosure.
Oldenburg said the zoo was closed Sunday, in a planned move because of weather forecasts projecting heavy rain.
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Detectives are reviewing hours of security footage to narrow down when the theft occurred and attempt an identification of the thief or thieves. Olivier said detectives are considering all possibilities for who may have stolen the monkeys and why; one possibility is that the animals were targeted for illegal sale, he said.
“We ask if anyone sees anything suspicious or sees anything out of the ordinary…or someone sees through social media someone making posts trying to sell these animals, we ask that they please contact us or contact CrimeStoppers at 232-TIPS,” Olivier said.
Before the theft, Zoosiana housed 38 squirrel monkeys, the zoo manager said.
Oldenburg said the squirrel monkeys’ habitat is located near the zoo’s playground and train station, across from the Capuchin monkeys. A family of squirrel monkeys is called a troop, and Zoosiana’s troop was recognized in December by an accrediting organization for its vibrancy and size, he said.
Squirrel monkeys have strong social bonds with their troop and are very active. The monkeys hail from South America and have fine fur, nails instead of claws and tails used for balance, not hanging or gripping food or other items. Squirrel monkeys can live to be around 20 years old and, like their name suggests, are about the size of a squirrel, Oldenburg said.
In Louisiana, it’s illegal to own a monkey, or any other primate, as a pet. Accredited zoos, research facilities, and the Chimp Haven federal sanctuary are exempt from the ban. And according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, they don’t make good pets.
They require a great deal of care and attention, according to the nonprofit’s website. You have to entertain and stimulate them and then clean up the messes they make when you fail to sufficiently entertain and stimulate them.
The zoo manager said he’s hopeful the stolen monkeys will be safely returned to the zoo and can be reintegrated into their troop. He said he’s at a loss trying to understand why someone would steal the monkeys.
“I’m hoping that questions like that can be answered one day,” Oldenburg said.
Oldenburg said zoo staff are considering if any additional security measures are needed at the facility. Thefts or theft attempts of animals are uncommon, he said.
The last theft at the zoo was in 2013, he said.
On April 10, 2013, 35-year-old Yongcun Su stole three birds — Kiwi, a Caique; Baby Blue, an African Ringneck parrot; and Senny, a Senegal parrot — from the zoo around 2 a.m. Su was seen loading bird cages into an SUV by zoo owner George Oldenburg, who called the Broussard Police Department.
Su, a New Iberia businessman, fled at a high speed. Police pursued but lost Su, later discovering his SUV on fire after he ran off the road and crashed into several trees in a resident’s yard in the 500 block of East Main Street.
The 35-year-old died from his injuries. The parrots were in the vehicle when it caught fire. All three escaped, with Kiwi later succumbing to injuries at the LSU Veterinary School of Medicine in Baton Rouge days later. Senny, initially presumed dead, was spotted on the shoulder of a U.S. 90 exit ramp by a passing motorist and returned to Zoosiana.
A handgun and several thousand dollars in cash were discovered inside Su’s vehicle by police.