Jan. 29 was a dark and quiet evening at the Dallas Zoo. The animals had been secured in their habitats for the night, and the last visitors had left the premises. That’s when Davion Irvin, 24, allegedly jumped a fence to enter the zoo, cut through an enclosure’s metal mesh and left with a pair of tamarin monkeys.
Irvin told police he took the rare cargo onto a Dallas Area Rapid Transit train — and then brought the monkeys to “the vacant home where he kept his animals,” according to an affidavit.
Throughout January, the Dallas Zoo made headlines for its spate of peculiar occurrences, including the monkey disappearances, a leopard on the loose and even a dead bird. And while the oddities seemed to come to an end last week, court documents obtained by The Washington Post shed light onto a mystery that garnered much attention — and left some wondering: What is going on at the Dallas Zoo?
Police say Irvin — who now faces six charges of animal cruelty and two charges of burglary — was responsible for at least some of it, including the tamarin monkey theft and clouded leopard’s escape. Other strange happenings, like the death of an endangered lappet-faced vulture, remain a mystery.
Craig Stango, Irvin’s attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post. Irvin is being held at the Dallas County Jail under a $25,000 bail.
The first incident happened the morning of Jan. 13, when the zoo started off the day under a “code blue”: Nova, a 25-pound clouded leopard worth up to $20,000, had disappeared overnight. Though the animal was eventually found roaming the zoo’s grounds, the “intentionally” cut fencing in her enclosure was a sign of trouble, officials said.
Police say Irvin was responsible for the leopard’s brief disappearance.
“Suspect Irvin admitted to cutting the fencing to the Clouded Snow Leopard exhibit, entered without consent, and admitted that he petted the Clouded Snow Leopard and his intention was to steal the animal but it fled up into the top of the enclosure and he was unable to retrieve it,” investigators wrote.
The day after the leopard incident, zoo staffers found the enclosure for langur monkeys had also been cut, though the animals remained in the habitat. Then, on Jan. 21, they discovered the lifeless body of Pin, a vulture with “an unusual wound and injuries” that “pointed to this not being a natural death,” officials said at the time.
Police say Irvin is a suspect in the cutting of the langur monkeys’ enclosure, but he hasn’t been charged for it as of Wednesday. The vulture’s death remains under investigation.
In the days leading up to the Jan. 29 break-in, Irvin allegedly visited the zoo and asked employees: “Where do y’all get the monkeys from and how do y’all shift them around?” and “How do you catch the birds and where do they go at night?” He also inquired about tigers and wrote down the staffers’ answers, according to the affidavit.
A little over a week after Pin was found dead, Bella and Finn, the two mustached tamarin monkeys, vanished for 36 hours before authorities found them in a house about 15 miles from the Dallas Zoo.
According to an affidavit, Irvin’s repeated visits to the zoo, questions to staff and presence at one of the park’s restricted areas raised suspicions among investigators. Zoo officials and police shared surveillance images of Irvin to solicit the public’s help in identifying him.
On Jan. 31, detectives were told that Irvin was “known to keep animals in a vacant building” that belongs to a church. The pastor’s son allegedly told officials that the 24-year-old had trespassed in the building before and that churchgoers had recognized him from the released surveillance images.
Around 4:45 p.m. that day, authorities arrived at the site in Lancaster, Tex., about a 20-minute drive from the Dallas Zoo. Inside, they found about 20 animals — dead and alive — surrounded by feces, feathers, cat litter and moldy clothes, court documents state.
Along with the tamarin monkeys, which were sitting on a piece of chain-link fence inside a bedroom closet, police found a dozen pigeons and four or five cats. Investigators also found items that had gone missing from the staff-only area of the zoo’s otter exhibit, including “feeder fish, water chemicals, fish flake food and training supplies,” according to the affidavit. The objects, which included a dead goldfish, were allegedly labeled “Otter.”
Two days later, Irvin was spotted at the Dallas World Aquarium asking employees about the monkeys they kept there, according to the affidavit. After recognizing him from the zoo surveillance images released by investigators, staff members immediately contacted the zoo, which notified police about Irvin’s location.
Irvin was detained on Feb. 2 on a DART train on his way back from the aquarium, according to the affidavit.
While Dallas Zoo officials have vowed to increase security measures, Irvin allegedly told police he would be back.
A self-proclaimed animal lover, Irvin “also stated that once released from jail, he admitted he would return to the zoo and again take additional animals,” investigators wrote in the affidavit.
Praveena Somasundaram contributed to this report.