Science and TechAnimals and Insects


Criminals now targeting zoo animals

The Dallas Zoo has dealt with a trend of vandalism and animal disappearances since January.
Posted at 9:00 PM, Feb 06, 2023

It's been a full month of vandalism, disappearances and even an animal death at the Dallas Zoo.

"It's been an unbelievable three weeks for all of us here at the zoo. It's unprecedented what's happened here," said Gregg Hudson, CEO of the Dallas Zoo. 

And while the Dallas Zoo is breathing a sigh of relief after last week’s arrest — zoo and wildlife industry officials are concerned this could have a broader impact.  

"Our community has really taken this seriously and has redoubled its efforts around security," said Dan Ashe, president of  the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Starting Jan. 13, the Dallas Zoo had fences cut in two of its enclosures. A clouded leopard escaped from its habitat but was later found on the premises.  

Then, just a week later, Dallas Zoo workers found a lappet-faced vulture dead. The Dallas Zoo CEO called it "very suspicious."

And finally on Jan. 30, two emperor tamarin monkeys were taken from the zoo and found several days later in a boarded-up home next to a church in South Dallas.  

Dallas Police arrested Davion Irvin in connection with three of the four incidents charging him with six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of burglary.  

“We're determined to make sure that we do everything we can to not let this happen again. Obviously, this is an unprecedented level of things that we're going to have to do. But we're up to the challenge of that," Hudson said. 

Man arrested in connection to Dallas Zoo monkey thefts

Man arrested in connection to Dallas Zoo monkey thefts

24-year-old Davion Irvin was booked into the Dallas County jail Thursday and charged with six counts of animal cruelty, police said.


But in the weeks since these incidents began in Dallas, other zoos across the country have experienced similar vandalism.  

A Eurasian eagle-owl escaped from the Central Park Zoo after vandals cut open its enclosure.  

"Flacco cannot survive on his own in the wild. Flacco has been in captivity at the Central Park Zoo for over 12 years," said David Barrett, a bird expert. 

Rescuers have kept an eye on the owl since its escape. In Louisiana, 12 squirrel monkeys were stolen from a local zoo after a break-in.

Ashe says these kinds of incidents raise concerns around copycat vandalism.  

"There is a concern we could see more of this copycatting, if people are doing it because they believe they want to free animals from zoos — it is not in the interest of the animals to do that," Ashe said.  

Court documents show the tamarin monkeys from Dallas Zoo were being kept in an abandoned shack that had cat feces, mold and mildew and various dead animals inside.  

"These are animals that normally live in the Amazon rainforest, very temperate warm place, and they were being held in in an abandoned facility where the temperature was 37 degrees," Ashe said. 

In response to the security breaches, the Dallas Zoo has instituted several new security measures — added security patrols, overnight staffing and more cameras to the facility.   

Those are steps Ashe says he expects to see more and more of, if incidents like this continue. 

"So all of our members are going to have to consider similar investments," Ashe said.