DALLAS — Dallas City Councilmembers praised leaders of the Dallas Zoo Tuesday for their response to a recent wave of vandalism and theft. Dallas Zoo leadership, however, say there still may be more security enhancements to come.
"I have to tell you we were all shocked and angry at the recent series of events," said Dallas Zoo Board of Directors Immediate Past Chair Lois Finkelman. Her comments were directed to the Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee as they sought an update on the latest security measures at the Zoo.
"You've given me a lot of confidence today that things are going to be fine," Dallas City Councilmember Chad West said after a presentation by Dallas Zoo COO and Associate Zoo Director Sean Greene.
That praise comes after a month of things being very-not-fine at the Dallas Zoo.
On Jan. 13, after an enclosure was vandalized, a clouded leopard named Nova escaped. A nearby Langur Monkey habitat suffered similar vandalism too. Those monkeys did not escape and the Clouded Leopard was found outside but near its habitat that afternoon.
Jan. 21, a lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead in its habitat in the Wilds of Africa section of the Zoo. It appeared to have a fatal puncture wound. Dallas Police and the US Fish and Wildlife Service were called in to investigate.
And Jan. 30, two emperor tamarin monkeys, Bella and Finn, were discovered missing from their habitat in the children's section of the Zoo. Outdoor and indoor holding areas were found to have been vandalized. Widely-circulated photos of a potential suspect led to the recovery of the monkeys the very next day in a vacant building in Lancaster.
A person of interest, Davion Irvin, was taken into custody Feb. 2 at the Dallas World Aquarium, where he was reportedly asking suspicious questions about animal care and enclosure access. He is still in the Dallas County Jail and has a total combined bond of $130,000.
Irvin has reportedly confessed to his involvement in the theft of the monkeys and other vandalism at the Dallas Zoo that allowed the Clouded Leopard to escape.
But after each incident, officials at the Zoo say their security apparatus grew.
Greene told members of the city council on Tuesday that there is now new perimeter fencing, an expanded security camera system, increased security lighting and a third-party consultant is studying if the zoo needs even more security measures.
"We have to be careful," Sean Greene told councilmembers, "because we are community zoo. It's fun. It's family friendly. We don't want it to look like a maximum security corrections facility."
"It has to be pleasing and aesthetically inviting," Greene told WFAA Tuesday afternoon at the Dallas Zoo. "And at the same time it has to do its job with safety and security. Because if we don't have safety and security, no one's gonna want to come."
While police believe Irvin is the sole suspect in some of the zoo vandalism including the theft of the tamarin Monkeys, the death of the vulture from a puncture wound is still a mystery and under investigation. DPD's animal cruelty division is involved. U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents are involved because the lappet-faced Vulture is considered an endangered species.
"But these kinds of things shake your confidence in humanity, I mean, the right thing and the wrong thing. And for me, we have to make sure that we prepare for all different scenarios," Greene said.
The scenario after a month of very unusual events, is the expectation of more security measures added in the future to keep the zoo's annual one-million visitors, and its wildlife inhabitants, safe.
Meanwhile, after a brief quarantine, the tamarin monkeys are back in their enclosure and on display. The clouded leopards, on an 85-degree February day, are blissfully asleep and unaware of the security measures being ramped up around them.