When most people think of a zoo, they think of animals, not guns.
“I can’t think of a reason for a zoo to have guns,” said one man. “You wouldn’t think that they had guns at a zoo,” said a woman.
It’s one reason why stolen guns from the Palm Beach Zoo does not just shock people like you and I. Zoo officials are shocked too.
“We are as baffled as the general public as to how this crime occurred; as to how someone got onto zoo grounds overnight, broke into a gun safe with tools and was able to access and take these weapons,” said Naki Carter, the zoo’s public relations manager.
Sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning , two modified shotguns were stolen out of a safe on zoo grounds. Officials say surveillance video, security guards and alarms were all in place, but will not say if the burglars were caught on camera or triggered an alarm.
Carter told Contact 5 Investigator Merris Badcock the thieves used burglary tools to break open the safe where the modified shotguns were secretly stored.
Both guns and ammunition were taken. Carter says the guns did not fire tranquilizer darts. “We do have different equipment that is used in a tranquilizer or a darting situation, and I can tell you that none of that equipment is missing at this time,” said Carter.
She says the stolen guns aren’t the only guns kept on zoo property. While that may not be common knowledge, it is common practice for zoo safety.
“They are modified for use with our CRT team; CRT standing for our Critical Response Team. They can respond from everything to a missing child or an injured person inside the zoo, to a situation that would warrant the use of a shotgun,” said Carter.
The shotguns required a federal permit because they were modified for zoo purposes. While officials will not say what that modification is, they say the thieves could face federal charges.
“They are shotguns. They have been modified, and there is an insignia, there is an inscription on it, something to allude to the word zoo. The word ‘zoo’ is the weapons somewhere,” said Carter.
Carter had one more comment for everyone who might be wondering whether or not this was an inside job. “Right now, I would say that remains under investigation, but we are not ruling anything out. We are looking at all avenues at all possibilities at this time.”
The Palm Beach Zoo has made headlines for two other recent high-profile incidents.
In April 2016, a zookeeper was mauled by a tiger. A report filed by Florida Fish and Wildflife Conservation Commission (FWC) says during the accidental death Stacey Konwiser violated zoo policy by entering an enclosure a tiger had access to.
In October 2017, FWC reports a zookeeper accidentally left the water running in the bush dogs exhibit. The exhibit was flooded out and two bush dogs died.
Zoo CEO Andrew Aiken resigned about 3 weeks after the incident. It's unclear if the resignation was connected to the deaths of the bush dogs. He was also in charge during the tiger mauling in 2016.
The new CEO, Margo McKnight is expected to assume her post on May 21, 2018.