The theft of a rare Amazon monkey from a Brazilian zoo could harm biologists' efforts to repopulate the endangered species, zoo officials said Wednesday.
Workers arriving at the zoo Tuesday morning noticed the male pied tamarin was missing, and found a wrench and a coat left behind in its cage.
"This is a significant loss," said Luiz Antônio da Silva Pires, director of the city zoo in Bauru, 220 miles northwest of São Paulo. "The monkey was likely one of the few still alive in captivity and we were hoping to use it to start a new population and keep the species alive."
Pires said the pied tamarins have increasingly lost their natural habitat because of urban growth and as farmers slash down jungle to graze cattle. How many are still alive is not known, although they have occasionally been sighted near the jungle city of Manaus, 1,700 miles northwest of São Paulo.
The zoo has been trying for months to find a female pied tamarin to mate with the 2.2-pound male.
"It's hard to say who would do this," Pires said. "This monkey would not be sold very easily; it's not usually used as a pet." Police did not have any suspects.
According to Renctas, a Brazilian organization that fights animal smuggling, illegal trafficking of rare species generates about $2 billion a year in the country. Many of the animals are sold to collectors in the United States, Europe and Asia.