In what appears to have been a carefully planned crime, a group of thieves raided the Blackpool zoo Tuesday night and stole five endangered monkeys: one baby and two female cotton-top tamarins, a critically endangered species with only about 6,000 remaining in the wild, and two male emperor tamarins.
According to Blackpool police, the thieves cut a hole in the zoo's perimeter fence, then proceeded to remove the locks from two separate animal enclosures, snatching the monkeys from each.
"This was a very targeted theft from two enclosures and include the loss of a mother and baby," the zoo wrote on its Facebook page. "The police are investigating and all ports and airports have been notified."
"These animals are vulnerable without the correct care and feeding," it added.
“It would appear from the way that these thieves have broken into the zoo that this was a planned and pre-meditated crime and that the offenders knew what they were looking for and knew that the monkeys would be in the enclosures," Blackpool police officer Steve Higgs said in a statement.
"There is definitely a market for these monkeys," Andy McWilliam, an investigations officer at the National Wildlife Crime Unit, told the Guardian, referring to their black market popularity as an exotic pet.
"We are extremely saddened by the theft of these monkeys and it is imperative they receive the correct care in order to survive," said zoo director Darren Webster. "All the animals were born here at Blackpool zoo and are part of our zoo family, so I would like to urge anyone with any information to contact the police."