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Dallas Zoo outlines new security measures in wake of missing animals, dead vulture

Zoo leaders told a city council committee their priority moving forward is making the zoo safer while maintaining its family-friendly atmosphere.

Dallas Zoo officials say they're prioritizing animal and visitor safety after a series of animal-related incidents last month.

The zoo’s chief operating officer, Sean Greene, walked Dallas City Council members through a timeline of each incident — and the specific security enhancements added in response to those incidents — during Tuesday's meeting of the council's Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee.

Greene said he and other zoo officials understand what happened over the course of January was "unacceptable."

"Moving forward, we have to figure out where we can get better, what we're doing right now, and certainly what the future is going to look like," Greene said.

Improvements to the zoo's security systems included motion-detecting cameras with alarms, solar-powered police surveillance camera units and additional security guards on zoo grounds — especially areas in which the animals' habitats were tampered with. Greene said the zoo added more cameras and guards to patrol zoo grounds after each incident.

Left: a picture of a solar-powered police surveillance tower. Right: A motion-activated light fixture on a brick wall.
City of Dallas Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee
The Dallas Zoo added several solar-powered police surveillance towers (left) and motion-activated light fixtures to its security systems after a series of incidents in January threatened animal safety.

The changes come in response to a string of bizarre episodes at the zoo that began with the escape of a clouded leopard named Nova on Jan. 13. The animal was found on zoo grounds a few hours later, but police say Nova's enclosure had been intentionally cut open. A separate langur monkey enclosure was also tampered with, according to zoo and police officials, though none of the monkeys escaped.

Then on Jan. 21, an endangered lappet-faced vulture named Pin was found dead under what police said were suspicious circumstances. Nine days later, two emperor tamarin monkeys went missing.

The emperor tamarins were later discovered in an abandoned home after a tip from neighbors. According to arrest affidavits, there were live cats and pigeons found in the home along with animal feces, mold and the bodies of other dead animals.

Dallas police arrested 24-year-old Davion Irvin on Feb. 2 in connection with the emperor tamarin monkeys' disappearance, as well as tampering with the leopard and langur monkey enclosures. He was charged with six counts of non-livestock animal cruelty and two counts of burglary of a building.

According to an affidavit, Irvin visited the zoo over the course of three or four days, continually asking staff members specific questions about the animals and how they're handled. The day he was arrested, police received a tip that he was at the Dallas World Aquarium, once again asking similar questions about the animals. Irvin then left the aquarium on a DART train, and police arrested him in the 1400 block of Pacific Avenue.

The emperor tamarins have since been released from quarantine and returned to their enclosure, the zoo said on Twitter.

But an investigation into the dead vulture is still ongoing — police have not linked Irvin to the animal's death at this time. Greene said there is forensic testing being done at the federal level, but did not elaborate further. He also said the zoo is working to allocate the $25,000 reward that was offered for anyone who had information that led to an arrest.

"Obviously, this is attention that we don't look to garner for the zoo or Dallas," Greene said. "There are some positives out of this. I think people have learned a little bit about some animals that they never knew about."

Similar animal-related incidents have since been reported at zoos in Houston and Louisiana.

Council members lauded the Dallas Zoo on Tuesday for working to keep its animals safe and maintain its reputation, but said they wanted to ensure the zoo had measures in place to prevent similar incidents from happening again. Greene said the zoo would work with an outside company to assess security technology on a yearly basis.

A larger image shows a long, yellowish-brown wood fence facing a road. A smaller image on the top right shows a portion of a wire fence surrounded by leaves and trees.
City of Dallas Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee
Dallas Zoo officials said the zoo would continue to build higher fences, some topped with barbed wire, as part of its newest security measures as shown in a presentation on Feb. 21, 2023.

Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold, who attended several media briefings at the zoo, said city leaders have been "stunned" by the latest events at the zoo but want to maintain its status as a "jewel" in the community.

"There is a lot of benefits to having the safety and the security and, of course, the prestige of having one of the strongest zoos in terms of attendance and just attractions," Arnold said. "And so, I would like to continue to support you in this position as much as I can in terms of upgrading security."

But District 14 Councilmember Paul Ridley warned the zoo leaders against security enhancements that could be off-putting to guests, such as barbed wire.

"If you can focus on more discreet measures to ensure the security of the facility, I think that's the direction to go," Ridley said.

Despite the high-profile occurrences, Greene said the zoo remained focus on serving the people of Dallas.

"It's important that we're embedded in the community right there in Oak Cliff, in South Dallas — been there for 110 years — and making sure we're creating incredible memories and experiences for people when they come out to the zoo," Greene said.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at You can follow Toluwani on Twitter @tosibamowo.

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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.