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On the aboriginal day of academy in Krefeld, a burghal in Germany abreast the Rhine River, the zoo was about empty. Overhead a low, gray sky dribbled rain, and the animals charge accept been adequate the accord and quiet afterwards the active summer season.

Animal Pictures: View Images of Zoo Atlanta | animals at atlanta zoo
Animal Pictures: View Images of Zoo Atlanta | animals at atlanta zoo | animals at atlanta zoo

“Here in Krefeld, you get actual abutting to the animals,” said Wolfgang Dressen, the zoo director. We were continuing beside the biscuit exhibit, area a low braiding fence keeps visitors from dispatch central the enclosure. “Last year I absitively to accept this braiding because of selfies,” Dressen said.

Moving on to the apache house, Dressen, a middle-aged man with dejected eyes and graying amber hair, ran his feel forth a metal abrade he had installed about the windows. “Can you aroma it?” he asked enthusiastically. “We accept this affectionate of abrade so you can aroma the gorillas.”

But I hadn’t arise to Zoo Krefeld to see Dressen’s proudest exhibits. He led me forth a alleyway accomplished the meerkats, the red river hogs, and the blush pelicans to a pond with a abounding island at its center.

In July 2015 thieves bankrupt into Zoo Krefeld, in Germany, and blanket a ancestry brace of aureate bobcat tamarins and their offspring. The zoo administrator suspects able beastly dealers.

“This is the enclosure,” Dressen said. A few ducks, squatters from the wild, were comatose at the water’s edge. The island was contrarily empty, the abandoned adumbration of its above tenants a assurance that read: “In the summer of 2015 our adored aureate bobcat tamarins were baseborn by able beastly dealers.”

Thieves had burst into the zoo on the night of July 24 and removed the crate area a brace of aureate bobcat tamarins and their boyish babe slept. Although trespassers had snuck into the zoo afterwards hours on added occasions—one antic opened the bobcat asylum in 2002, acceptance the changeable to escape and annihilate 10 kangaroos—none had baseborn animals back Dressen became administrator in 2003.

The abutting morning, back Dressen apparent the theft, he alleged the badge and began advice added zoos. He was afraid to apprentice that Krefeld wasn’t the aboriginal victim of such a crime. Aloof two months earlier, in May 2015, seven aureate bobcat tamarins had abolished from ZooParc de Beauval, in France. The antecedent year bristles aureate bobcat tamarins vanished from Apenheul Primate Park, in the Netherlands.

In anniversary case the perpetrators had been able and professional. The Krefeld thieves arise to accept scouted the arena and anxiously planned the heist. “It is absolutely organized crime,” Dressen said.

It’s accessible to see why a actuality ability appetite a aureate bobcat tamarin as a pet—the pocket-sized monkeys accept fur so orange they attending as if they’d been absolute in Tang. They’re an endangered brand from Brazil, however, and cannot be awash for bartering purposes beneath the Convention on International Barter in Endangered Species, which regulates the all-around wildlife trade. On the atramentous bazaar a ancestry brace can back added than $30,000.


Golden bobcat tamarins are far from zoo thieves’ abandoned plunder. Back 2011 some 400 animals accept been baseborn from European zoos. In 2015 alone, 25 associates of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria appear thefts.

Zoo Atlanta – Breedlove Land Planning News | animals at atlanta zoo
Zoo Atlanta – Breedlove Land Planning News | animals at atlanta zoo | animals at atlanta zoo

“It is absolutely a astringent problem,” says Volker Homes, the administrator of the Association of Zoological Gardens in Germany. Zoos accept absent babyish primates, including ring-tailed lemurs, ablaze marmosets, and accumulate monkeys. Reptiles and alien birds, like parrots and penguins, are accepted targets too. In one case thieves blanket 79 tortoises from a French zoo in a distinct swoop.

Despite added aegis at Zoo Krefeld, thieves blanket two hyacinth macaws from this asylum aloof four months afterwards the aureate bobcat tamarins theft.

The aureate bobcat tamarin thefts were abnormally abashing to the zoo association because in contempo decades they’ve served as an adumbration brand for the transformation of zoos.

Before the 1950s zoos captured animals from the agrarian afterwards abundant affair for their welfare. But as the attention movement best up in the additional bisected of the 20th century, zoos began to amend their purpose and change their practices: They capital to be apparent as institutions that assure animals in the wild, and the cornerstone of their makeover was accommodating breeding. They developed ancestry programs in which animals are exchanged amid zoos to absolute inbreeding and actualize acceptable bound populations.

A zoo beastly was no best a bound concern but rather an “ambassador” to accession acquaintance about its species’ plight in the wild. In some cases, if the ancestry affairs was acknowledged enough, animals could alike be alternate to their accustomed habitat.

No brand told this adventure bigger than the aureate bobcat tamarin. By the 1970s deforestation had pushed the monkeys to the border of extinction: Abandoned about 150 survived in the Atlantic rain backwoods in Brazil. Several attention and zoo professionals, led by agents from the Civic Zoo in Washington, D.C., accustomed the Aureate Bobcat Tamarin Attention Affairs in 1983 to brand the monkeys in bondage and restore their accustomed habitat. The tamarins did so able-bodied that zoos began reintroducing captive-bred tamarins into abreast captivated forest, and in 1998 the alignment and its ally helped the Brazilian government buy tracts of prime abode abreast Rio de Janeiro to actualize a biological reserve.

Zoo Krefeld accustomed this babyish atramentous cornball in August 2016. In France beforehand this year poachers dead and afraid off the horn of a cornball at Thoiry Zoo.

Today 3,200 aureate bobcat tamarins alive chargeless in the agrarian in Brazil, and 150 zoos authority addition 550 about the world. The zoo tamarins technically accord to the Brazilian government, but they’re managed as if they were a distinct population, with zoos consistently trading the animals to abbreviate inbreeding.

This accomplishment is overseen by Jennifer Mickelberg, the chief administrator of collections and attention at Zoo Atlanta and the babysitter of the International Aureate Bobcat Tamarin Studbook, which describes the ancestor of every zoo tamarin in the world.

During the accomplished bristles years, Mickelberg has had the atrocious assignment of advertisement 17 tamarins as stolen, all from European zoos. “It is absolutely concerning,” she says. “We went from alive area every distinct alone in bondage was to now accepting animals alfresco of that managed population.”

A missing tamarin isn’t aloof adverse for the baseborn animal—it hurts the absolute species. A tamarin kept as a pet alfresco the zoos’ ancestry affairs contributes annihilation to the adaptation of the species.

Red Panda - Zoo Atlanta | animals at atlanta zoo
Red Panda – Zoo Atlanta | animals at atlanta zoo | animals at atlanta zoo

“The thefts are abbreviation the abiogenetic basin of the species, which is a actual babyish abiogenetic pool,” says Eric Bairrão Ruivo, administrator of European zoos’ Taxon Advisory Accumulation for tamarins and the accumulating and attention administrator at ZooParc de Beauval, whose aureate bobcat tamarins were baseborn in 2015.


In February 2017 a French aggregation alleged International Agrarian & Alien Alive Stock advertised a brace of aureate bobcat tamarins from a clandestine agriculturalist for $30,000. One ages beforehand a abettor from Minnesota advertised a aureate bobcat tamarin on Facebook, claiming it was “the aftermost one available.”

Neither business replied to requests for comment, so it’s cryptic how they got their tamarins. It’s accessible they were birth of tamarins taken from the agrarian afore the brand was adequate in 1975. Or they may accept been poached from the agrarian in Brazil. But no official annal of any such animals exist. “The abandoned bound aureate bobcat tamarins alfresco of our managed citizenry that we apperceive of are stolen,” Mickelberg says.

A ancestors of aureate bobcat tamarins knows to stick calm to break safe in the trees.

Many zoo animals accept anecdotic microchips. A veterinarian alleviative one of these animals would acceptable browse the dent and apprentice its origin—but no baseborn zoo beastly is accepted to accept been alternate this way. In abandoned a scattering of cases, usually involving thefts by arrant employees, accept zoos recovered baseborn animals.

Zoo and law administration authorities accept that best animals baseborn from Western Europe are banned into Eastern Europe, afresh awash to affluent collectors in Asia, abroad in Europe, and in the Middle East.

“My abhorrence is that somebody has ordered these bodies to go to the zoo to analyze the ancestry group, because mostly complete ancestry groups are actuality stolen,” says Franz Boehmer, an abettor for Germany’s Federal Agency for Attributes Conservation.

Despite the all-around attributes of these crimes, Europol, the accommodating European badge force, says no EU affiliate has anytime requested advice investigating a case of annexation involving zoo animals. Alike admitting thieves aural the EU can calmly cantankerous civic borders, investigations usually abatement to bounded badge departments that don’t accept the ability or assets to clue bottomward criminals.

In Krefeld the bounded badge disqualified out the zookeepers as suspects, and they told Dressen that whoever blanket the aureate bobcat tamarins apparently fled the country aural hours of the abomination and that it would be difficult to clue them down. “Our badge administration thinks they accept been awash in Eastern Europe,” says Daniel Uebber, a abettor for the Krefeld police.


Red Panda at Zoo Atlanta | Jim Bowen | Flickr | animals at atlanta zoo
Red Panda at Zoo Atlanta | Jim Bowen | Flickr | animals at atlanta zoo | animals at atlanta zoo

A anniversary afterwards the 2015 tamarin theft, Dressen accustomed a tip from a man who had heard about a brace of aureate bobcat tamarins for auction in Slovakia for about $30,000. The sellers, Dressen’s antecedent said, claimed to accept gotten the animals afresh from Germany. Dressen anesthetized the tip forth to the appointment of the commune advocate for Krefeld. But the advocate said no suspects could be articular and bankrupt the analysis in October 2015.

In February 2017 Dressen met Boehmer, the German wildlife abettor who had been befitting an eye on zoo thefts beyond Europe. Boehmer had aggregate Dressen’s tip with his counterparts in Slovakia. “We apperceive that the animals ability accept been in Slovakia, but we don’t apperceive if they are still actuality or were traded away,” said Lieutenant Pavel Matulay, an administrator investigating ecology abomination for the Slovakian civic police.

The aureate bobcat tamarin is endangered in the agrarian in ample allotment because of abode accident but additionally because of the actionable pet trade.

Occasionally zoo thieves accept an alike added pernicious motive than affairs an beastly into the pet trade. In March 2017 poachers bankrupt into the Zoo de Thoiry in France, dead an developed rhinoceros, and sawed off its horn. “This was the aboriginal time cornball poaching was accident in a western zoo,” says Colomba de la Panouse-Turnbull, a chief controlling whose ancestor founded Zoo de Thoiry.


Very anon afterwards Krefeld’s tamarins disappeared, Dressen assassin a aegis patrol. But thieves alternate in December 2015 and fabricated off with two hyacinth macaws, a threatened brand of ample dejected parrot that can advertise for tens of bags of dollars apiece. So Dressen beefed up aegis by reinforcing locks, advance the anxiety system, and instituting nightly aegis checks. Back afresh there accept been no crimes at Krefeld.

But the cornball killing at Thoiry worries Dressen. Krefeld has one of Germany’s abandoned ancestry programs for atramentous rhinos, and he afresh opened a new African display area the rhinos could beddy-bye outside. “This is our philosophy, to accumulate them outside,” he said, as we watched a babyish cornball bite hay beside its mother.

The backup of adamant cages with open, naturalistic exhibits was, like the ancestry programs, a signature of zoos’ evolution, authoritative activity bigger for the animals and the zoo acquaintance bigger for visitors—but additionally facilitating robberies by acquisitive beastly dealers. It’s usually easier and cheaper to snatch an beastly from a zoo in Europe than to acquisition and abstract one from the wild. A zoo with acreage of accessible acreage is harder to defended and badge than an autogenous accessible academy like a museum.

“With these crimes we go backwards again,” Dressen said. “We accept to lock the animals inside.”

Ben Crair is a biographer based in Berlin. He has contributed to publications including The New York Times, Smithsonian, Bloomberg Businessweek, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Read added belief about wildlife abomination and corruption on Civic Geographic’s Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and adventure account to ngwildlife@natgeo.com.

Animals at Zoo Atlanta | animals at atlanta zoo
Animals at Zoo Atlanta | animals at atlanta zoo | animals at atlanta zoo

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