AThere was great excitement at Leipzig Zoo over the Easter weekend: Ruma, a bearded monkey, was stolen from his enclosure. According to the zoo, Ruma's absence was noticed on Easter. According to the police, unknown persons forcibly opened the monkey cage and stole the animal on Sunday night. So far, there is no trace of the 15-year-old monkey – the animal has now been put on the wanted list by the police.

Bearded monkeys are a critically endangered species. High requirements are set for the legal acquisition of monkeys, keeping and transport are regulated by the Washington Species Convention, said zoo director Jörg Junhold.

Also over the weekend, several ostrich eggs were stolen from Freiburg's Mundenhof Zoo. A week earlier, ostrich eggs and rhesus eggs were stolen from the zoo. Both cases show that animal thefts from zoos are not uncommon. In most cases, it is not a spontaneous act, but rather an organized crime. “These are all contract thefts,” Krefeld Zoo biologist and spokeswoman Petra Schwinn tells FAZ.

Very professional business

The thefts are carefully planned and crime scenes are scouted in advance. The whole thing is carried out very professionally. Pet traders can make a lot of money on the black market, especially for endangered species. Exotic birds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as small animals that do not defend themselves and are easily transported, are especially in demand. The animals are then bought for own breeding or for private zoos.


Veterinarian at the Frankfurt Zoo

Where have we gone, Mr. Seehund?
Image: Maximilian von Lachner

Several thousand euros are also paid for monkeys on the black market. In early February 2024, a man stole 14 squirrel monkeys from a zoo near Marseille. Krefeld Zoo has also fallen victim to monkey theft. In 2015, three rare golden lion marins were stolen – a couple and their cub. At the time, Krefeld Zoo estimated the value of the pair alone at 25,000-30,000 euros. The animals have not yet been found, in part because the criminals removed the monkeys' “IDs” — their identification chips — Schwinn says.

Thieves don't just target the animals themselves

Many zoos have tightened their security measures because of the thefts. This includes cameras, electric fences and security patrols. Schwinn doesn't want to go into more detail about the precautions Krefeld Zoo is taking to avoid playing into the hands of criminals. That much: The zoo has taken “multiple security measures,” including hiring an outside security service. Particularly endangered species, such as hyacinth macaws, are “quadruple protected”.

In rare cases, altruistic motives may also play a role in theft. In 2018, 56 Greek tortoises disappeared from the Corsican zoo. At the time, zoo operators did not rule out that the turtles were stolen by animal rights activists to be released into the wild. In 2017, a family found a young freshwater crocodile that had previously been stolen from a traveling zoo along a riverbank in Sydney, Australia, on Easter Sunday.

But thieves don't just target the animals themselves, they also target their products. Some zoos therefore take unusual precautions. In 2017, a Czech zoo cut the horns of many of its rhinos short with a chainsaw. The zoo was responding to an incident that happened at a French zoo the same year. At that time, unknown people saw off one of the two horns of the white rhinoceros and stole it. The animal died. Ground rhinoceros horn is considered a miracle drug and is sold at exorbitant prices on the black market.

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