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What’s going on at the Dallas Zoo? Man arrested, monkeys stolen and a vulture dead

Officials have been limited in what details they can share due to an ongoing investigation.

Update:
Updated at 5:15 p.m. Feb. 21 to include additional information throughout.

An unprecedented string of events at the Dallas Zoo, including missing animals, torn enclosures and an unusual death, has garnered national attention over the past few weeks.

Due to the ongoing investigation, officials have been limited in what they can release publicly, and that, in addition to speculation ensuing on social media, has evoked more questions than answers.

Here’s what we know thus far (and what we don’t):

What happened with the clouded leopard?

A 4-year-old clouded leopard named Nova had a day of social media fame on Jan. 13, when the zoo announced she had escaped from her enclosure.

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After an hours-long search that involved infrared drones, a “code blue” and Dallas police’s SWAT team, she was found on-site.

Nova, the clouded leopard who escaped from the Dallas Zoo, rests on a branch on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023 in Dallas. The leopard was found on the zoo grounds after an hours-long search that spurred a criminal investigation, was reunited with her sister Saturday. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

The zoo’s veterinary team gave her a physical exam, determined she was unharmed, and reunited her with her sister, Luna, in their repaired enclosure the following day.

The zoo said Nova got out through a cut in the mesh surrounding her habitat, and police opened a criminal investigation, stating it was “intentional.”

Didn’t something happen with a langur monkey, too?

The day after Nova escaped, officials revealed a similar cut was found on the langur monkeys’ enclosure.

Luckily, all of the langurs were in their habitat and accounted for.

Gray langurs and deer have a symbiotic relationship in the parks of Madhya Pradesh, warning each other of approaching tigers. (Mark Johanson / Chicago Tribune)

What about the vulture?

About a week after the habitat vandalism, a 35-year-old endangered vulture was found dead, and zoo staff quickly deemed the cause “unusual.”

The bird, named Pin, was one of four lappet-faced vultures at the zoo. He had been at the Dallas Zoo for 33 years.

Pin, an endangered vulture at the Dallas Zoo, was found dead over the weekend under suspicious circumstances. Police are investigating the death.(Dallas Zoo)

At first, officials only said that Pin’s death did not appear to be from natural causes, but after the zoo’s veterinary team conducted a necropsy — or an animal autopsy — they revealed the bird was found with a “wound.”

Officials have declined to expand on their findings, citing the ongoing investigation.

And then two monkeys were taken?

Less than two weeks after Pin was found dead, police and zoo officials said two emperor tamarin monkeys were taken from their enclosure.

Zoo spokeswoman Kari Streiber said when staff discovered they were missing, it was immediately “clear the habitat had been intentionally compromised.” According to police, the habitat had been cut.

Streiber said since the monkeys, which are expected to “stay close to home,” were still unaccounted for after an hours-long search, police “have reason to believe the tamarins were taken.”

But those monkeys have been found, right?

Tuesday night about 4:50 p.m., police said both monkeys were found, alive, in Lancaster — a suburb roughly 20 miles south of Dallas.

Police said they received a tip the monkeys might be in an abandoned home in Lancaster, and they ultimately found them inside a closet at that location.

The monkeys were secured and brought back to the zoo, where officials said they would be examined by the veterinarians. An update on their condition is expected Wednesday.

Have any arrests been made?

Yes. A man was arrested in connection with the two stolen monkeys after being spotted near animal exhibits at the Dallas World Aquarium, according to police.

Davion Irvin, 24, was booked into the Dallas County jail Thursday night, according to jail records, and faces six charges of animal cruelty in connection to the monkey case, police said. However, jail records show five charges, with bail set at $25,000.

Police said officers received a tip Thursday that Irvin was seen at the Downtown Dallas aquarium. Then, the officers saw Irvin get onto a DART rail, later spotting him in the 1400 block of Pacific Avenue before taking him to police headquarters for questioning, police said.

Police previously shared a photo of him on Tuesday walking around the zoo on surveillance video, asking for the public’s help identifying him.

Are all of these incidents related?

Dallas police said they have not yet determined if the habitat vandalisms and vulture death are related.

Who is investigating these incidents?

Dallas police is taking the lead, but following the vulture death, the department also requested assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wait, the man arrested planned to steal more animals?

Irvin told police that he plans to return the zoo and steal more animals if he’s released from jail, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit.

In an affidavit, zoo staff also told police that Irvin was asking “obscure questions” and “acting odd” in the days before the monkeys’ disappearance.

The affidavits say he asked, “Where do y’all get the monkeys from and how do y’all shift them around?” According to the affidavits, he asked similar questions about the handling of other animals, including the clouded leopard and langur monkeys.

There were monkeys on a train?

Yep. Irvin told police that he took mass transportation, according to the affidavits. He told investigators that after getting the emperor tamarin monkeys out of their enclosure, he took the DART rail, then walked to the vacant Lancaster home where he stashed the animals.

It’s not clear exactly what route Irving took to the abandoned home in Lancaster. The DART Red Line has a station at the Dallas Zoo.

On the night of Jan. 29, Irvin told investigators that he waited until dark and then jumped a fence on the Clarendon Drive side of the zoo, an affidavit said. He then went to the monkey exhibit, “cut the metal mesh, went through the door, cut the monkeys’ enclosure and took them.”

Have there been any improvements in security?

Before the string of incidents began, the zoo already had more than 100 on-site cameras to monitor the public, staff and animals. The zoo has since increased camera coverage, including solar tower units from Dallas police.

Overnight security and staff presence has nearly tripled, and in some cases, the zoo has limited animals’ ability to roam in the outdoor areas of their enclosures overnight.

“We’re going to continue to expand and implement whatever it takes for the safety and security [of] the animals, staff and the people who live near the zoo,” Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson said.

Zoo officials outlined their initial security plan to the Dallas City Council’s quality of life, arts and culture committee on Feb. 21. They spoke about adding cameras with motion-detected features and alarms, fortifying the zoo’s perimeter fencing and extending nighttime patrols with the zoo’s security company and Dallas police.

Are the monkeys all right?

The two emperor tamarin monkeys that were stolen from the zoo have since been released from quarantine. The monkeys, Bella and Finn, were secluded for nearly three weeks.

Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president of animal care and conservation, told The News that staff wanted to do at least a two-week quarantine to make sure the monkeys didn’t pick something up from another animal in the house.

“In high-stress events, immune systems can tank, and that’s when a bug can catch hold,” Edell said. “We didn’t want to take any chances.”

What did I hear about a $25,000 reward?

At a news conference Jan. 23, the zoo said it is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and indictment. That has since been increased to $25,000.

If you have a tip, about any of the cases, call the Dallas Police Department’s animal cruelty unit at 214-670-7694.

Watch: Dallas Zoo offers $10,000 reward for arrest in vulture death, habitat vandalism
Dallas Zoo offers $10,000 reward for arrest in vulture death, habitat vandalism

What do zoo officials have to say about all of this?

Hudson, the zoo president and CEO, previously called the incidents “totally unprecedented and disturbing,” adding he has never seen “anything like this” in his decades-long career working at zoos.

Harrison Edell, the zoo’s executive vice president for animal care and conservation, called the incident involving the stolen tamarins was “offensive to the core.”

“It feels like a personal attack because it is your extended family and someone just took them away,” he said.

Well, when will we know more?

We don’t have a firm answer on that.

The information on these cases is released at the discretion of zoo and law enforcement officials, who say they can’t release too many details given the pending investigation.

The zoo does not currently have another news conference scheduled.

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