SPRINGWATER TWP. — After a long road trip from Quebec and a harrowing last few days, all JC the lemur wanted upon his return to the Elmvale Jungle Zoo was a banana and cuddles.
The seven-year-old lemur, which was born and raised at the facility north of Barrie, was recovered in Quebec early Sunday morning in a crate that had been abandoned on the side of the road. The lemur was immediately taken to a nearby veterinarian, who maintained control of the animal and cared for him until he could be returned to Ontario.
JC was taken sometime overnight on Tuesday, May 29 after someone broke into the zoo on County Road 27, north of Barrie. They also stole an 18-inch tortoise, named Stanley, and a young gibbon ape named Agnes, both of which have yet to be recovered.
“I was devastated when I heard the news,” zookeeper Devon Cassell said as she stroked JC’s belly, minutes after he arrived back at the zoo. “He’s my buddy. All he wants now is cuddles and scratches.”
She said he appeared no worse for the wear despite what he has gone through the last few days.
Huronia West OPP officers responded to a break-in at the zoo on Tuesday, May 29. Police say someone entered the grounds by cutting a hole in the chain-link fence sometime between 10 p.m., May 28, and 6:30 a.m. the next morning. They then walked through the flamingo pond and gained access to the animals which were stolen.
Zoo employee Marina Huygen said the situation has hit everyone hard at the facility, from those who’ve been working there just this season to those who’ve been there for decades
“It’s been absolutely devastating,” Huygen said. “Nothing like this has ever happened to us before, so it honestly came as a huge shock to everybody.”
JC’s return has instilled a sense of hope, Huygen said, that the others will be return safely.
“I’m really excited to see JC today, so it’s a start,” she said moments before the lemur arrived back to the zoo. “We really want to bring the other two home and we were hoping it would happen in quick succession, in that we’d find one and then the other two.
“The days are dragging on now,” Huygen added. “It’s been a couple of days since we heard anything more, anymore leads or anymore arrests. I come in everyday hoping to hear some news and hopefully hear that we’ve found at least someone else.”
Two men were arrested on Friday — a 21-year-old from Ottawa and a 20-year-old from Mount Albert, Ont. — and charged with break and enter and theft over $5,000.
Police continue to investigate in hopes of retrieving the other two animals.
“With Agnes and Stanley still outstanding, there’s still a lot of work that has to be done,” OPP Sgt. Peter Leon said at the Elmvale zoo, Tuesday. “We have to get those two animals back here to the zoo where they belong.”
Huygen said she was surprised by how far away JC was found.
“It made it even more devastating to know that they had even made it that far,” she said. “If JC had been found a little bit closer to home, it would’ve given us more hope that the others would be found. But even with the OPP, it’s beyond them.”
Provincial police have been working closely with York Regional Police as well as the Montreal police department and provincial police in Quebec.
“It is a significant distance and that forms part of the ongoing investigation,” Leon said. “We are very fortunate that we do have two individuals currently in custody … but again, the work will not be done until those other two outstanding animals are returned to their rightful homes.”
Gibbons, which are native to Asia, are a rare animal.
“That alone might have put a target on the gibbon,” Huygen said. “She was raised with her cousin, Gracie, and they’re right around the same age. They grew up together and have spent their whole lives together. These are very social animals that need to be with someone. They’re social, they’re a family group.”
With each passing day, the level of concern grows
“The big concern for us, and obviously the folks here at the Elmvale zoo, is Agnes the gibbon monkey,” Leon added. “Gibbon monkeys are very social animals, they require their partner, their friend, to be with them. The sadness and depression they can suffer as a result of something like this taking place could be irreversible.”
Police are asking anyone with information on the investigation or the whereabouts of the other two animals, no matter how small they may believe it to be, to contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).