Home News Local News Vandalism prompts zoo closure Sunday

Vandalism prompts zoo closure Sunday

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Vandals cut locks and fencing on animal exhibits at the Spring River Park and Zoo over the weekend, causing four animals to briefly get loose and the city-operated zoo to be evacuated and then closed down Sunday.

Todd Wildermuth, public information officer with the city of Roswell, said that the zoo was opened during its regularly scheduled hours the next day. Damage was repaired and the exhibits were secured Sunday, but additional work might still have to be done.

One bobcat, a raccoon and two coatimundis ventured outside their vandalized exhibits, but were later found in “keeper areas” near the exhibits, which are utilized by zookeepers to care for the animals but not accessible to the public, according to a press release issued Sunday by the city of Roswell.

Five animal exhibits — one housing a red-tail hawk, another housing a coyote, an exhibit with two raccoons and another that had two coatimundis — had locks cut or holes in fencing made by what are believed to be bolt cutters.

The red-tail hawk, coyote and one of the raccoons were found to have not left their respective exhibits.

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All but one of the animals that did leave exhibits were found within 15 to 20 minutes, the press release states. One of the raccoons took longer to find, but was eventually found and returned to its exhibit later in the morning.

Once animals moved from their exhibits into the keeper areas, they could have made their way into the visitor areas used by the public, but zoo staff believe the only loose animal that could have gone into a public area.

“So, overall as we look back, we can say that the danger level did not rise to where it could have, fortunately, if the animals had decided to venture further, but they didn’t,” Wildermuth said Monday.

The press release states the damage was discovered at about 9:30 a.m. Sunday when zoo staff received a report from a zoo visitor, who noticed the fencing at the red-tailed hawk exhibit had been cut, creating an opening in the fence. Staff then responded by taking care of the hawk exhibit, searching all other exhibits and evacuating the 15 to 20 visitors who were at the zoo at the time.

It is believed the perpetrator or perpetrators that broke into the zoo possibly entered the premises before the zoo opened by the cutting a lock on a non-public gate along the perimeter of the property, the release states.

A zookeeper is quoted in the press release as saying that while no people or animals were injured, the incident could have potentially led to harm to both people and the animals. The zookeeper credited the good relationship zookeepers have established with animals as a big part of how they were able to get them back into their exhibits so quickly.

Wildermuth said police do not have any suspects at this time and very few clues.

“So anybody who hears anything — you know people talk sometimes — and if somebody hears something that sounds like something or someone who has been involved with this, we definitely want them to pass it on to us and tell the police,” he said.

When asked if any similar vandalism had happened before, where animals had been released from their exhibits, Wildermuth said there had been two incidents: one about 15 years ago, when a baby pygmy goat was stolen, and another in 2009 when an exhibit room window in the reptile building was broken and a boa constrictor was stolen.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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