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Police arrest man in connection with string of Dallas Zoo incidents

A picture of a woman pulling a child in a wagon toward the entrance of the Dallas Zoo
Steve Helber
The entrance to the Dallas Zoo in Dallas is pictured on June 3, 2008. Two monkeys were taken from the Dallas Zoo on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, police said, the latest in a string of odd incidents at the attraction being investigated, including fences being cut and the suspicious death of an endangered vulture in the past few weeks.

Dallas police say they received a tip the man was seen at the Dallas Aquarium. He's accused of releasing a leopard from captivity and taking a pair of monkeys, but has not been charged in connection with a dead vulture found last month.

Police say they arrested a man in connection with a series of animal-related crimes at the Dallas Zoo, including the disappearance of two emperor tamarin monkeys and the release of a clouded leopard from its enclosure last month.

Davion Irvin, 24, was arrested and charged with six counts of animal cruelty to a non-livestock animal and two counts of burglary, according to police and zoo officials.

The arrest was made after a tip came in Thursday that 24-year-old Davion Irvin was seen inside the Dallas World Aquarium near some animal exhibits, according to the Dallas Police Department. A spokesperson said the investigation has led detectives to believe Irvin was "looking to commit another crime" there.

Officers responded and police say they saw Irvin board a DART rail. He was later spotted on Pacific Avenue downtown and taken to Dallas police headquarters for questioning, DPD said.

The monkeys were found Tuesday night after police received a tip that they were in an abandoned home in Lancaster. Hours earlier, police tweeted a photo of a man detectives said they were "looking to speak to" in connection with the monkeys' disappearance. DPD did not confirm whether the man in that photo was Irvin.

Zoo officials said the monkeys, named Bella and Finn, were returned to the zoo with no injuries despite losing a bit of weight.

Two emperor tamarin monkeys in their enclosure at the Dallas Zoo.
Dallas Zoo
Two emperor tamarin monkeys at the Dallas Zoo. Police and zoo officials say two of the monkeys may have been stolen from their enclosure on Jan. 30, 2023.

Mysterious Dallas Zoo incidents

The alleged monkey theft was just the latest in a series of mysterious animal-related incidents that zoo officials and police believed to be suspicious and possibly related.

The first took place on Jan. 13, when the zoo closed after a clouded leopard named Nova went missing. Though Nova was found safe hours later, police found what they said was an intentional cut in the fencing of the animal's enclosure. They also determined someone had tampered with the enclosure of the zoo's langur monkeys, though none escaped.

The following week, zoo employees found Pin, an endangered male lappet faced vulture, dead with an unnatural wound in its body.

At the time of its death, Harrison Edell, vice president of animal care and conservation for the Dallas Zoo, said Pin was loved by all who cared for him.

Nova the snow leopard sits on a tree branch in the Dallas zoo
Dallas Zoo
Nova, a clouded leopard, sits perched in the Dallas Zoo. Zoo officials said the animal went missing on Jan. 13, 2023.

"This is an endangered species, which makes him all the more important to the long-term sustainability of the vulture population," Edell said. "And we're also really disturbed by the idea that someone might have intentionally done this."

Police began investigating Pin's death as suspicious and connected to Nova's escape. The zoo offered initially offered a $10,000 reward for information that could lead to an arrest. Once the monkeys went missing, that reward was increased to $25,000.

Zoo officials say they have since added more cameras and overnight security. Zoo CEO Gregg Hudson said that helped in identifying Irvin, who he said had no previous connection to the zoo.

But while Irvin was charged in connection with the leopard and monkey cases, police say he is not linked to the vulture's death at this time. The investigation is ongoing, police said.

Edell said the zoo's staff is still grieving.

"We're working hard to make sure that Nova, the clouded leopard, and the emperor tamarin monkeys settle back into their routines here at Dallas Zoo," Edell said Friday.

The string of bizarre incidents comes as the Dallas Zoo's accreditation is set to expire in March. Reached for comment, Dan Ashe, the president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums — a nonprofit that accredits the Dallas Zoo — said the zoo's accreditation is likely not in jeopardy.

A picture of the Dallas zoo vulture named Pin, superimposed over a photo of the Dallas Zoo entrance.
Toluwani Osibamowo
KERA News (Inset: Courtesy photo)
Pin, a male lappet-faced vulture, was found dead at the Dallas Zoo. Police are investigating the bird's death.

Nonetheless, in a statement, Ashe wrote this kind of situation is unlike anything he's ever seen, and suspects those responsible may be seeking animals as pets or to be used for trafficking.

He encouraged people to continue going to the zoo, as its visitors and guests are its lifeblood.

"Go to Dallas Zoo, support the zoo, learn about these animals and what's happening to them in nature," Ashe said.

The zoo released a statement Wednesday, writing its team was "devastated" by the threats to zoo safety.

"Words cannot express the frustration our team is feeling," the statement read. "Even with all the additional security measures we have put in place during the past two weeks, our animals and staff continue to be the target of these criminal acts."

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.