A four-day-old macaque monkey was found abandoned on a street near Venice on Monday, less than 24 hours after it was stolen from a zoo in northern Italy.
The infant monkey, which belongs to a protected species, was snatched from its mother in Cappeller wildlife park by up to four people at night.
The gang, described as “organised” and “expert”, cut through an exterior fence at the facility in Cortigliano, in the province of Vicenza.
After breaking into the animals’ enclosure, the criminals succeeded in the dangerous task of scaring the other macaques away before seizing the baby and making their getaway in a car.
“The baby still needs its mother’s milk”, the Parco Faunistico Cappeller posted on Facebook on Monday, asking people to report any sightings to the police. The desperate appeal went viral.
A few hours later, on Monday afternoon, a man arrived at the carabinieri police station in Favaro Veneto, in the Mestre area near Venice, with the tiny male monkey in a cage.
He told officers that he found the cage, covered with a bag, on a street not far from the centre of Favaro.
“Fortunately, its mother accepted it again, we were afraid she would refuse it,” the wildlife park’s owner Samantha Cappeller told La Repubblica newspaper.
She said the mother and father of the baby macaque had been found with “bruises on their heads,” adding: “We believe there was a fight and the thieves probably also suffered injuries.”
Noting the dangers involved in confronting the macaques, Cappeller said: “I wondered how they managed to get him. We didn’t even know if it was male or female because it was always in its mother’s arms and therefore unapproachable.”
“Now we have to decide what to call him” – she told La Repubblica – “We’d like “Forest” in honour of the carabinieri forestry corps but also “Salvo” isn’t a bad name. Maybe we’ll have a contest”.
An investigation is underway into the incident which occurred days after the zoo celebrated the arrival of the baby monkey on social media and which is likely to have been a “steal-to-order” commission for the thieves.
Police have also been checking with hospital emergency rooms in the region to see if anyone presented in the previous 24 hours with wounds compatible with animal bites or scratches.