Five endangered monkeys snatched from Blackpool zoo have sparked an international hunt, as police revealed the animals were likely "stolen to order".
Investigators say the three cotton-top tamarin monkeys, including a baby, and two emperor tamarins were stolen in a carefully-planned raid and specifically targeted. Cotton-top tamarins are critically endangered.
Thieves cut a hole in the perimeter fence of the zoo during Tuesday night and removed the locks of two separate monkey enclosures, according to the preliminary investigation by Lancashire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
Darren Webster, the zoo director, said in a statement: “We are extremely saddened by the theft of these monkeys and it is imperative they receive the correct care in order to survive.
“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.”
PC Steve Higgs of Blackpool Police said in a statement: “It would appear from the way that these thieves have broken into the zoo that this was a planned and premeditated crime and that the offenders knew what they were looking for and knew that the monkeys would be in the enclosures.
“I would appeal for anyone who has any information or any witnesses who saw anything suspicious on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning to get in touch. It may be that there were dog walkers around at that time who may have seen people acting suspiciously.
“I would also appeal to anyone who may be offered these animals for sale to contact the police.”
Andy McWilliam, Investigations Officer at the National Wildlife Crime Unit, added: “There is definitely a market for these monkeys and we are making enquiries across Europe in a bid to try and trace them.”