Five armed men dressed in black and wearing ski masks broke into the National Zoo’s animal rescue center last weekend and stole 17 rare and endangered birds, supposedly to provide a black-market buyer, according to zoo sources.
Zoo director Marina Arguello said that the five men broke into the zoo Jan. 19 at 3 a.m. with flashlights, threw the night watchman on the ground and stole the birds –one parrot, five toucans and 11 macaws –from various cages. As the men escaped, they dropped one of the parrots and a raccoon, which were later recovered.
Police were called immediately but didn’t respond until the following day, Arguello said. Arguello, who suspects it was an inside job, said all the stolen birds had already been rescued from the black market as babies, and had since been nursed back to health and were ready for reproduction.
“Not only did we lose all these beautiful birds of incalculable value, but we also lost the entire reproduction program, which is the saddest part,”Arguello told The Nica Times.
She said that the birds, all of which were identified with leg bracelets, fetch a black market price of $500 to $2,800 each.
The zoo, which has suffered extreme economic hardship in past years, has been robbed before, but Arguello says it won’t happen again.
“Next time we’re going to switch the tiger cage and the bird cage at night,” she said.