The El Paso Zoo in Texas plans to press charges against a woman who trespassed into the zoo's spider monkey exhibit last weekend, a "stupid" act that could lead to permanent changes for the animals' safety, officials said.
Zoo staff learned of the incident through social media, with a video showing a woman underneath a waterfall in the enclosure attempting to feed two of the monkeys.
"This young lady decided to hop a fence, climb through some bushes, drop down into a 4-feet deep moat, walk across the moat and then try to feed the spider monkeys," said Zoo Director Joe Montisano.
"It was stupid. She knew what she was doing was wrong. She's very fortunate that it didn't have a worse outcome for her or the animals," he said. "These are primates. They are strong; they have canine teeth. They can scratch. We don't interact with them on the daily. And we don't interact with them without a barrier in between us."
Montisano also delivered a message to deter others from trespassing in the future.
"Your friends will rat you out in a heartbeat. We had about six to eight people call on Sunday," he said, adding, "We just talked to police and we are going to proceed with pressing charges. And they will talk to the District Attorney. We can't let this behavior go unpunished."
The woman's action could be bad news for zoo visitors.
The enclosure, while appealing, is the spiders monkeys' territory and the moat is a barrier because the monkeys can't swim and are afraid of the water. Therefore, the fence around the exhibit is lower, allowing for increased visibility for visitors.
"It was very unusual for them. Animals are creatures of routine and they saw it as an intrusion of their territory," Montisano said of the woman, who can be seen sitting nearby the monkeys in the video.
"This is not an unusual exhibit. There are probably 50 zoos across the country that have spider monkeys the way we keep them – a shallow moat and a people barrier. That's why they are so popular; there's no fence in your way.
But, he added, "Unfortunately, this may change all that because of this one lady's unfortunate actions."
María Cortés González may be reached at 915-546-6150; email@example.com; @EPTMaria on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Texas zoo to press charges after woman trespasses in monkey exhibit