Baby marmosets among exotic animals stolen from Devon zoo

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The Independent Online

A colony of rare, black-eared marmosets and a collection of exotic birds worth £10,000 have been stolen from a Devon zoo.

The animals, which included vulnerable baby marmosets the size of a human thumb, were taken from Exmoor Zoo, Barnstaple, early yesterday.

Zoo keepers believe the animals were stolen to order - the thefts of the monkeys is the latest in a series from small zoos across Britain.

The marmosets, the only breeding colony in the UK, were in danger because of their size, especially the four-week-old babies, said Danny Reynolds, 45, a curator at the Zoo.

The 11 monkeys and four pairs of birds would be easy to sell on and were worth more than £10,000, Mr Reynolds said. "Those two little babies are going to suffer. It's what is going to happen to them that worries me. Unless they are looked after by someone who knows how to care for them, they are going to die,".

Monkeys are social animals and will be very stressed by the move from their familiar environment, he said.

Black-eared marmosets are a species officially listed as threatened. They come from the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and are about 18in tall when fully grown. The zoo had spent 13 years building up the colony.

The zoo said they would make demanding pets and that they would probably be bred so that their offspring could be sold to specialist collectors, most likely abroad.

Exmoor Zoo houses over 200 species including maned wolves, cheetahs and otters, but specialises in small species and conservation.

"The babies were so young that we have not even named them yet," Mr Reynolds said. "They are only just reaching an age where we could feel safe that they might survive."

Also stolen were a pair of endangered white-fronted marmosets, two pairs of parrots, a pair of cockatoos and a pair of Amazons.

"These people have no right targeting a zoo," Mr Reynolds said. "They have targeted species which do not require a licence to be owned by a normal member of the public so I do believe they have been stealing to order.

"It is so much of our work just gone because someone can't earn a living in a normal way."

In August 2004, thieves stole 10 rare monkeys, including five Goeldi's monkeys and two cotton-top tamarins, worth £10,000 from the Shaldon Wildlife Trust in Devon.

A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman said officers are keen to get the animals back "for their safety and welfare".