ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE)- The Roswell Police Department is searching for one or more individuals accused of vandalizing exhibits and letting animals out of their exhibits at the Spring River Park and Zoo Saturday night. The animals were all returned to their exhibits Sunday.
Authorities say that the zoo was opened around 9 a.m. Sunday as usual when a staff member received a report from a visitor of what appeared to be a cut made in the fencing of the red-tailed hawk exhibit. The hawk was still inside and it was at that time that the zoo was evacuated and staff began checking all exhibits.
Roswell police say four additional exhibits had their gates locks and fencing cut including the bobcat, coyote, raccoon, and coatimundis exhibits. The hawk, coyote, and one of the raccoons were found still in their exhibits.
However, two coatimudis, the bobcat, and a second raccoon had left their exhibits and were discovered in “keeper areas” next to the exhibits. These areas are not accessible to the public and are used by zookeepers to access the exhibits.
“This is not just any other type of vandalism when you’re dealing with these various animals who can put people unnecessarily at harm,” said Todd Wildermuth with the City of Roswell.
Police say that the animals could have made their way into public visitor areas however, zoo staff believe the only animal that may have gone into the public area was the raccoon.
Zoo staff were able to locate all of the missing animals but the raccoon within 15 to 20 minutes. The raccoon was eventually discovered hiding and was returned to its exhibit.
While no people or animals were harmed during this incident, Roswell police say it created the possibility of potential harm. A zookeeper told authorities it was “very fortunate” that the animals were close to their exhibits which are considered to be their “comfort zones”.
The zookeeper credited “good relationships” between the animals and other zookeepers as playing a vital role in getting the animals returned to their exhibits in a quick and safe manner.
Police say that as of Sunday afternoon, the Spring River Park and Zoo will remain closed for the remainder of the day while repairs are made to the vandalized exhibits. The zoo is expected to reopen on Monday at the establishment’s usual 9 a.m. opening time.
The Roswell Police Department is asking anyone with information that could help identify the individual or individuals responsible for these acts to contact them at 575-624-6770. The public can also call Chaves County Crime Stoppers at 1-888-594-8477.