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Monkey's Death At Zoo Boise Prompts National Media Attention, Community Outcry

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Samantha Wright
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Boise State Public Radio

Updated at 1:25 p.m.

Police have arrested one of two men who they believe broke into an Idaho zoo the night a monkey there died from blunt-force trauma.  But questions remain about how and why the animal was killed.

Twenty-two-year-old Michael Watkins of Weiser was arrested Monday in Washington County on felony burglary and grand theft charges.

A tip from a citizen led police to Watkins.

Updated at 5:12 p.m.

Boise Police have made an arrest in the death of a Zoo Boise Patas monkey over the weekend. No further details are known at this time.

Meanwhile employees at Zoo Boise are still reeling after the Saturday morning break in that ended with the death of that Patas monkey.  The animal, named “Cratey,” was found outside his cage, beaten and dying. That's after two men broke into the zoo around 4:00 am. 

Steve Burns is the Zoo's executive director and Samantha Wright talked with him Monday outside what's called the "Primate House."  Just before they spoke, a family left a vase of sunflowers and a sympathy card at the primate house, right next to the cage holding “Incus.” That's the surviving Patas monkey.

Burns says he's been fielding calls from national media all day, sharing what happened Saturday when a security guard found the men trying to escape.

"The man outside the gate ran into the park and the other man ran into the Zoo. So, the security guard called police as he was supposed to do, explains Burns. The police arrived just a few minutes later. I offered to bring some of the police down to a part of the Zoo where I thought they could hide and on the way down there. On the way down there, we had passed the primate house and I heard a groan. And then I heard it again. We started looking in the bushes, we thought maybe there was a person in there. While we were doing that one of the police officers happened to shine his light over by the perimeter fence where the two men had been standing and said 'I think that’s a dead animal' and we weren’t sure what it was. I went over and realized it was one of the Zoo’s monkeys, a Patas monkey. Actually, it took me a few seconds to piece it together. It was just so weird to see one of our animals in a place where they weren’t supposed to be. Clearly he had been injured. I yelled for our lead keeper. I said bring some nets, bring a crate. I called our veterinarian. The animal was alive at that point. It was breathing, although it looked to be in serious condition. Our veterinarian arrived probably 15 minutes after I called her and we had the animal in the hospital, removed it from the crate, and she began to examine it and realized at that point that he was dead."

Q. You have a security guard, but no security cameras?

A. Yeah. It would be pretty tough to have cameras everywhere in an eleven acre facility so, we have a security guard and they do rounds throughout the night.

Q. How’s the second monkey doing, the one left behind?

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Credit Photoquest/Dreamstime.com
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Patas monkey

A. Physically, he wasn’t harmed.  The other monkey's gone. So he’s obviously by himself. So we’re spending more time making sure that he’s o.k., that he has everything he needs. 

We’re not opening up the front garage doors of this exhibit just so he doesn’t get stressed.  Monkeys are social animals.  They need to be housed with at least two monkeys of the same species and so we’re in the process now of determining could we find another monkey to bring here, so there would be two of them.

Patas monkeys are not that common in zoos across the country, and so if we can’t find another one, we may have to ship him to zoo where he could be with other Patas monkeys.  That’s gonna take us a couple of days to get the answer to that question.

Q. How is everyone at the Zoo taking this?

A. The Zoo staff obviously was devastated.  I met with them that morning to tell them what had happened.  There were tears. There was shock, disbelief. There was confusion, and I think there was some anger that this had happened.  They were great, I mean my staff was just fantastic that day and they care so much about the Zoo.  And the whole community has been…

We happen to work here. We happen to take care of the animals, but the animals are the community’s animals.  This monkey belonged to the community and monkeys are amongst the favorite animals of all those families and kids that come here.  There’s been a tremendous outpouring from the community, emails and texts and tweets and phone calls of people just as upset as we are about what happened.

Zoo Director Steve Burns says Boise Police are investigating the break in and searching for the two suspects.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio

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