Police found two emperor tamarin monkeys in a house about 15 miles from the Dallas Zoo on Tuesday, nearly 36 hours after the animals were reported missing, law enforcement officials said in a statement.
Police found the monkeys in a closet at the Lancaster, Tex., home around 5 p.m. Dallas and Lancaster officers were responding to a tip that the animals might have been abandoned at the house, police said. No one was home when the monkeys were found, they added.
The Dallas police department released a photo Tuesday morning of a person they were “looking to speak with” about the missing monkeys, but have not identified any suspects and no arrests have been made.
Monday’s incident with the emperor tamarins marked the fourth suspicious scene police investigated at the Dallas Zoo this month.
The first sign of trouble for the zoo came the morning of Jan. 13 when it posted online that it was under a “Code Blue.”
The zoo closed that day amid what it called a “serious situation” — one of its clouded leopards was not in its habitat, leading to a day-long search for the animal, which was found on the grounds that afternoon.
About a week later, zoo staffers found one of their endangered vultures dead in its enclosure. The bird had “an unusual wound and injuries” that “pointed to this not being a natural death,” officials added.
And on Monday, members of the animal-care team called police after discovering that two of the zoo’s emperor tamarin monkeys were missing, and an “intentional cut” was found in their enclosure, officials said.
“We want everyone to know how seriously we take the safety and security of our animals, our staff, and our campus as a whole,” Dallas Zoo said in a Jan. 23 statement following the vulture’s death.
The zoo added that it would “continue to expand and implement even more safety and security measures, to whatever extent is needed, to keep animals and staff safe.”
On Monday, the zoo was closed to the public because of bad weather. Staffers noticed two of the zoo’s emperor tamarins were missing from their enclosure around 7 a.m.
The monkeys, which have long white whiskers resembling a handlebar mustache, would “likely stay close to home,” zoo officials said in a statement. Staffers searched the grounds throughout the day but couldn’t find the animals.
Based on their initial investigation, Dallas police believe the monkeys were taken after their enclosure was “intentionally compromised,” the zoo said.
A similar cut to an enclosure was found in the first case when Nova, a 25-pound clouded leopard, went missing on Jan. 13, zoo officials said. After an all-day search that involved both drones and officers, Nova was found near her original habitat.
Police said the fencing of her enclosure had also been “intentionally” cut with a tool.
That same day, Dallas Zoo staffers spotted a similar cut in the fencing where its langur monkeys are held. None of the monkeys were missing or harmed, police said at the time.
Over the next week, the Dallas Zoo added additional cameras to the more than 100 it already had and upped its security patrols during overnight hours. But officers returned to the zoo on Jan. 21 after one of the endangered vultures in its “Wilds of Africa” habitat was found dead.
The 35-year-old lappet-faced vulture, Pin, was one of about 6,500 of his kind left. Officials at the zoo, where Pin lived for 33 years, called him “an extraordinary ambassador for his species.”
“The circumstances of the death are unusual,” the Zoo said in a Jan. 22 statement. “ … Given the recent incidents at the Zoo, we alerted the Dallas Police Department.”
As of Monday evening, Dallas police said it is still unclear whether the events at the zoo are connected. All four cases remain under investigation, police said.
Ron Magill, a longtime zookeeper and communications director at Zoo Miami, said the incidents in Dallas have likely heightened the concerns of zookeepers across the country who are facing decisions about animal and patron safety.
“Incidents like this create the need to build more barriers between people and the animals,” Magill said. “And at the end of the day, what that does is it creates just a more obstructive cage, and we’re trying to get away from that.”
And the incidents in Dallas pose a serious danger for the animals, who require professional attention from zoo staff who have been trained to provide them with the proper food and environment.
“Anybody who thinks they might be helping an animal by releasing it from whatever habitat it was at in the Dallas Zoo is sadly mistaken,” Magill said.
Justine McDaniel and Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.