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Dallas Police Make Arrest in Missing Monkey Case

Surveillance video and a tip gave Dallas police what it needed to find who allegedly stole two emperor tamarin monkeys from the Dallas Zoo.
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Dallas Zoo

Last Updated, 2/3, 5:45 p.m.

The man who the Dallas Police Department suspected had information about two missing emperor tamarin monkeys from the Dallas Zoo has been arrested and charged with animal cruelty related to their abduction.

Davion Irvin, 24, was taken into custody Thursday night after investigators received a tip that he was at the Dallas World Aquarium near the animal exhibits. He was apprehended and taken to police headquarters for questioning after officers saw him get onto a DART train and exit at the 1400 block of Pacific Ave.

He is charged with six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of burglary of a building, but police said Friday that other charges may be forthcoming. Irvin has been booked into the Dallas County Jail, and his bond is set at $25,000.

The two monkeys, named Bella and Finn, were first reported missing on Monday morning. According to an arrest affidavit, zoo staff saw the two in their enclosure shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday. It was immediately clear that the enclosure had been compromised; the fencing had been cut and the metal mesh on the enclosure’s door was cut and bent “in a manner and size for a person to both reach into and/or gain access to.”

There were no cameras in the area at the time that would have been able to capture the break-in, but the affidavit indicates that prior to the tamarins’ disappearance, a man had been asking “obscure questions” about the care of various animals, including a “newly born Gibbon.” The same man was also asking for an update on the condition of the newly returned clouded leopard. He was later identified as Irvin, and the affidavit says he was also seen entering parts of the zoo that are not open to the public around the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo, which is near the tamarin habitat.

Dallas Zoo security provided detectives with several images of Irvin, and by Tuesday, police had identified a man they said might have information regarding the missing primates, but stopped short of calling him a person of interest or suspect. In Friday morning’s announcement, police said Irvin was the same man.

“The preliminary investigation and help from the public identified Irvin as the man Dallas Police were looking to speak with regarding the missing monkeys at the Dallas Zoo,” a statement from Dallas police said.

Tuesday night, the monkeys were recovered at an unoccupied house in Lancaster after a tip from the church that owns the house. Church members also recognized the man in the zoo surveillance photo as someone who had been to the church.

The affidavit also said that feeder fish, fish flake, and water chemicals zoo staff had reported missing from a staff-only area at the otter habitat were found at the vacant home.

At a Friday press conference, Dallas police spokesperson Kristin Lowman said that Irvin now faces two additional burglary charges after detectives determined that he was involved in the breach in the clouded leopard habitat and that led to the daylong disappearance of one of the clouded leopards. He is suspected of cutting the langur enclosure the same day. He has not been connected with the suspicious death of a lappet-faced vulture.

The tamarin habitat is in Zoo North, just steps from the langur and clouded leopard habitats and the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo.

Police aren’t saying what Irvin’s motive might have been. Lowman said Friday that detectives do know how he was able to get the animals out undetected, but that information isn’t being released since it is part of the ongoing investigation. The Zoo said that Irvin has never been an employee or volunteer of the Zoo.

The call from Dallas World Aquarium, along with the tip from the Lancaster church, were key in finding Irvin in time. She stopped short of saying he was “casing” the aquarium, but did say, “we do believe he was looking to commit another crime.”

The affidavit said that Dallas World Aquarium staff reported that a man matching Irvin’s description asked questions about how to catch animals, and was touching a habitat with an enclosure “of the same construction” as the tamarin habitat at the Zoo.

Dallas Zoo president Gregg Hudson said Friday there have been other single incidents of animal theft at other zoos, but never a string of them. “This is really, truly unprecedented,” he said.

On Wednesday, the zoo increased the reward to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest or indictment in connection to all of the recent incidents and outlined plans to improve security at the campus.


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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