The “suspicious” death of an endangered vulture at the Dallas Zoo has prompted the city’s police to open an investigation, following reports that fencing may have been intentionally cut at the same location about a week ago.
Staffers found the vulture dead in its “Wilds of Africa” habitat on Saturday, the Dallas Zoo said in a statement. The vulture’s death did “not appear to be from natural causes,” and the circumstances surrounding the death were “unusual,” it said, without providing more details.
“The animal care team is heartbroken over this tremendous loss,” the zoo statement said.
Following the discovery of the dead vulture, zoo officials alerted the Dallas Police Department, which launched an investigation, according to a statement.
It’s the second time in a little over a week that Dallas police have opened an inquiry into suspicious activity at the zoo. After a clouded leopard went missing from its enclosure on Jan. 13, police found that “a cutting tool was intentionally used to cut an opening in the fencing” of the leopard’s habitat. Zoo staffers also told police about a similar cut in the fencing surrounding the habitat of langur monkeys, though none of the monkeys escaped. After a search, the leopard was found and returned to its habitat.
The incidents prompted the Dallas Zoo to install new cameras and beef up overnight security, it said. “We will continue to implement and expand our safety and security measures to whatever level necessary to keep our animals and staff safe,” it added.
Police said they don’t know whether the two incidents are related or whether there is a connection between them and the vulture’s death.
“The preliminary investigation determined the bird was found dead in its enclosure,” Senior Cpl. Melinda Gutierrez, a spokesperson for the Dallas police, said in an email. “The cause of death has not been determined at this time, but the death is being investigated as suspicious. A necropsy will be conducted on the bird.”
It’s not unheard of for animals to escape their enclosures: In November, five lions triggered an emergency response at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney when they escaped the main exhibit.
According to ABC’s Dallas affiliate, WFAA, there have been at least four cases of animals escaping the Dallas Zoo in the past 19 years. In 2004, a gorilla named Jabari broke out of its enclosure and injured several people, including a toddler, before police shot and killed the animal. Authorities later found that Jabari escaped by scaling the 14-foot wall and 12-foot-wide trench separating its enclosure from the public. “This is strictly a gorilla doing something that no one ever anticipated that a gorilla could do,” Rich Buickerood, then the director of the Dallas Zoo, said at the time.
The recent incidents in Dallas are unusual because of the suspicions of possible foul play. The Dallas police filed a criminal mischief report after they discovered the cuts in the zoo’s fencing and said the investigation is ongoing.
The zoo said the recent incidents played a part in its decision to notify police of the vulture’s death. “We cannot share many details until Dallas PD has had more time to look into this matter,” its statement said.