Darcy Daenzer National

Detroit and Toledo zoos increase security after animal disappearances around the U.S.




Within the past year, the Dallas, Louisiana and New York zoos have all had animals taken or released from their respective facilities. Taking this potential threat to their animals seriously, the Detroit and Toledo zoos have increased their security to prevent something similar from happening.

While no animal has been reported missing, there has been “unusual activity at the zoo that was possibly a person casing the facility,” said Sarah Michals of WXYZ Detroit.

The threat of animals being taken from zoos seems to be very serious seeing as in Jan., a 25-pound clouded leopard was released from the Dallas Zoo. Then, two weeks later, two emperor tamarin monkeys were stolen by the same man.

Additionally, in Feb., a dozen squirrel monkeys were stolen from the Louisiana Zoo, and at the Central Park Zoo, a Eurasian eagle-owl “escaped through a hole cut in the mesh of his enclosure,” said Michals.

These exotic animals might be more at risk of being taken or released than other animals. “I feel exotic animals are often perceived as luxurious and unique,” said Danielle Nykanen (’23) who works in animal care in the rat lab with Professor Swalve. “This makes many enticed by them because many are one of a kind or something no one else will have.”

The Eurasian eagle-owl, Flaco, has made its home in Central Park where he has attracted the attention of tourists and bird watchers who come with “binoculars and cameras on hand, in attempts to spot the massive bird,” said Taylor Nicioli of CNN.

While Flaco seems to be doing fine, releasing animals held in captivity for so long is a bad idea as they might not be able to effectively survive on their own anymore.

It is not clear what the motivating factor is behind the people who have taken or freed these animals. But if they had the intention of freeing animals they believed should not be in captivity, they might be doing more harm than good.

“‘Much as many people wish to see animals in zoos freed, this is a horrible idea to release these animals,’” said Dr. Andrew Farnsworth, a senior researcher associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York who was interviewed by Michals. “‘The animal’s own welfare and the welfare of those wild animals in the community into which a captive animal is released may both suffer.’”

“I think these security risks have likely caused many zoos to reevaluate their overall safety,” said Nykanen. “If animals are taken and not returned promptly, it poses a serious threat to both the human and the animal.”

Increasing security at the Detroit and Toledo zoos is more difficult than one might imagine with so many animals and no rooves on enclosures.

However, appropriate security measures are still possible. “‘This is one case where I think that technology is actually ahead of the game because the analytics and technology that’s available on cameras and alarm systems now is… ahead of what a human being can circumvent,” said security consultant Jason Russell, the interviewee of Michals.

For the Detroit Zoo, safety for their animals is of the utmost importance. “‘As one of the largest visitor attractions in the region, the Detroit Zoo treats any type of suspicious activity seriously. 

“‘We always remain vigilant, and it is a top priority to keep guests, staff, volunteers and the animals who call the Zoo home, safe,’” said Dr. Hayley Murphy, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, quoted from Michals.

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