Five endangered monkeys have been stolen from a zoo as they slept, officials said today. Thieves smashed through fencing at Drusillas Zoo Park at Alfriston, East Sussex, and stole the marmosets from their nesting boxes.
There was concern today that the primates - normally found in the South American rainforests - could have been stolen to order for illegal collectors of rare animals.
Zoo manager Sue Woodgate said they were particularly anxious to trace the mother monkey, silvery marmoset Jazz, who needs regular medication. She said: "We are very worried about the welfare of all the monkeys, especially Jazz, who has a medical condition which requires treatment twice daily. She will become very poorly quickly without her medication."
Deputy head keeper Paula Walling added: "The keepers are very upset about losing some of their animals, especially baby Larkin, the first silvery marmoset baby born at Drusillas."
The marmosets were safe in their enclosure at the popular visitor attraction when zoo staff locked up on Saturday evening. But keepers found smashed glass, broken fences and the marmosets missing when they came to check on them yesterday morning.
John Hayward, co-ordinator of the National Theft Register, said there had been a spate of thefts of small monkeys in the UK this year. He said: "We have had about 50 little monkeys stolen during the last two to three years, no doubt all stolen to order or to feed into the pet trade. Last year was a lot quieter but so far this year we have had a number of similar thefts, the most recent of which was at Exmoor Zoo where 13 such monkeys were stolen. They could be worth several hundred pounds each and they do breed quite readily, but it is not their value that we are worried about, it is their welfare."