“We learned this morning that the individual who was filmed trespassing in the spider monkey enclosure of the El Paso Zoo was an employee of Lovett Law Firm,” shareholder Nora Artalejo Lovett said in a statement on Monday. “She has been terminated.”
The woman has been identified as Lucy Rae, who worked in the personal injury division at Lovett Law.
Ms Artalejo Lovett added that the law firm “has always been a strong supporter of animals and animal advocacy. We absolutely do not condone this irresponsible and reckless behaviour”.
“We support the El Paso Zoo and our thoughts go out to the spider monkeys, Libby and Sunday, and hope that they will recover from this very traumatic experience,” the statement concluded.
Officials from the zoo told the El Paso Times they plan on pressing charges.
“This young lady decided to hop a fence, climb through some bushes, drop down into a four-feet deep moat, walk across the moat and then try to feed the spider monkeys,” zoo director Joe Montisano told the outlet. “It was stupid.”
Watch: Woman caught on camera entering monkey enclosure at zoo
“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,” Mr Montisano said.
“These are primates. They are strong, they have canine teeth. They can scratch. We don’t interact with them on the daily,” the zoo director told the paper. “And we don’t interact with them without a barrier in between us.”
Mr Montisano added that the zoo may have to install a taller fence to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
He said the zoo fielded phone calls from people who identified the woman. “We had about six to eight people call on Sunday. I know more about this young lady than I do about my own daughter probably,” he said.
“We just talked to police and we are going to proceed with pressing charges. And they will talk to the District Attorney,” he added. “We can’t let this behaviour go unpunished.”
The zoo director said having a person enter their enclosure was “very unusual” for the spider monkeys. “Animals are creatures of routine and they saw it as an intrusion of their territory,” he said.
“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.
“Unfortunately, this may change all that because of this one lady’s unfortunate actions,” he concluded.
Mr Montisano said the woman had been “stupid and lucky”.
Zookeeper Mason Kleist said she didn’t only put herself at risk, but endangered the two monkeys by feeding them. The primates have a special diet, and diverting from it could cause stomach issues.
“She was attempting to feed them Hot Cheetos, it is still unclear if they actually ate any,” Mr Montisano told Newsweek. “From the video, they were more disturbed with her being there than concerned with the food,” the zoo director said of the monkeys.
He added: “The spider monkeys are fine. Maybe a little shaken up by the incident but they are fine.”
“These are primates we’re talking about, they could do some substantial damage to you,” Mr Kleist told local TV station ABC-7. “They may be small monkeys but they can take you to the ground if they wanted to.”
The zookeeper added that she also put the monkeys at risk of contracting diseases.
“Anything that we have they could get as well, so Covid is no different,” Mr Kleist added. “We took the necessary steps to prevent them from getting that, so for someone to just go in there and give them food from their hands could just ruin that.”
The zookeeper said Ms Rae also put the relationship between the monkeys and the zoo workers in jeopardy.
“It takes years to build trust with these animals and for someone to come in there for five minutes for a video on Instagram or whatever just ruins years of work,” Mr Kleist told ABC-7. “It’s going to take a long time to get them back to where they were.”
El Paso police have indicated that the zoo has filed a complaint and that the incident is under investigation, according to ABC-7.
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