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Teen arrested in zoo theft of 3 squirrel monkeys, a Goeldi's monkey, and an Amazon parrot

September 12, 2009 | 12:18 pm

West Palm Beach police arrested a 17-year-old boy late Friday in the theft of three squirrel monkeys, a Goeldi's monkey and a Green-cheeked Amazon parrot from the Palm Beach Zoo, according to police spokesman Chase Scott.

The suspect faces burglary and grand theft charges. Animal cruelty charges are pending in the case.

"We are investigating two other young adults in connection with the crime," Scott said.

Primate keeper Nancy Nill's worry lines were gone, replaced by a broad grin.

She was still in mom mode, closely monitoring the recovery of four monkeys and a parrot that had been stolen from the Palm Beach Zoo after Wednesday's closing time. But with their return Thursday afternoon, relief tempered her concern.

"Awesome. I feel awesome," Nill said. "I can sleep tonight."

Acting on a tip, police tracked the animals to an abandoned house on the 2532 Palmarita Road in Lake Clarke Shores, according to Scott.

Three squirrel monkeys were found in plastic containers in a sweltering shed behind the house. A Goeldi's monkey and a Green-cheeked Amazon parrot were kept in cages.

Veterinarians treated the animals for heat exposure. All are expected to make a full recovery, though one monkey, Dougie, was in more serious condition and needed more care, said Keith Lovett, director of living collections at the zoo.

By Friday, Dougie was out of the intensive care unit and doing fine, mingling with other monkeys, said zoo spokesman Brian Crowley.

"They're very much like a small child that gets left in a car in a parking lot," said chief veterinary officer Michele Miller. "They're all a little bit stressed and distressed."

In what an official called a "brazen act," thieves broke into the zoo and cut the locks off a perimeter gate and cages. They nabbed squirrel monkeys Sallie, 4; Dougie, 14; and Simone, 27, who was born in the zoo, Lovett said. Also missing were Elise, a 6-year-old Goeldi's monkey that had arrived at the zoo two weeks ago, and Chalupa, a special-needs parrot.

"There's some speculation that these monkeys would not have gone quietly, that they would have fought back," Crowley said. The animals are all endangered or rare, he said.

While there are no security cameras, there were guards on-site, Crowley said. Zoo officials will review security in the coming days.

The animals were not on display, and were kept in temporary housing in a grassy corner away from the rest of the zoo, Lovett said. New arrivals such as Elsie are quarantined before mingling with other animals. For Chalupa, who arrived with wing and foot injuries at the zoo in 2002, and Simone, who needs regular medications, the back area provides special care. And other animals live there while their habitats were under construction.

Zoo animals are often snatched to be sold on the black market of exotic animal trade, Lovett said, but no respectable pet store would buy them.

On the black market, the squirrel monkeys can be sold for around $3,000 each, Lovett estimated. A Green-cheeked Amazon parrot is worth about $1,000, but the rare Goeldi's monkey places its value between $5,000 and $10,000, he said.

This is not the first time animals were stolen from the zoo. Four monkeys were swiped in 1998, according to past Sun Sentinel articles. In 1993, two rare South American monkeys were found with a teenager who may have wanted them for Satanic worship, police said then.

-- Stephanie Wang and Erika Pesantes /  South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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