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Police Have Charged A Man With Theft After Animals Mysteriously Went Missing From A Florida Zoo

"Often with animals in the pet trade, these are the animals that are taken," a rep for the zoo told BuzzFeed News.

Posted on June 6, 2018, at 11:47 a.m. ET

The Santa Fe College Police Department in Gainesville, Florida, have recovered seven out of the 11 animals that mysteriously went missing from a local zoo last week. On Wednesday, a suspect was arrested and charged with grand theft.

Brianlasenby / Getty Images

Over the past two weeks, and on two separate occasions, zookeepers from Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo reported a total of 11 animals missing from their secure enclosures.

The Santa Fe College Police Department told BuzzFeed News they were able to locate seven of the missing animals after a tip came in, but they are still investigating what happened and where the remaining animals are located.

On Wednesday, police arrested a suspect, 20-year-old Sedrick Tyrezi Price, who lived in the apartment where the seven animals were found. He was charged with grand theft, police confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

On May 24, and then again on May 31, students and employees of the zoo discovered during routine morning checkups that several animals had mysteriously vanished.

Among the missing were two gopher tortoises, two box turtles, a squirrel monkey, a skink, two red-footed tortoises, and another three box turtles. The box turtles, red-footed tortoises, skink, and squirrel monkey were recovered from Price's apartment in town this week.

Jay Anderson, the communications manager for Santa Fe College who's been working with local police, told BuzzFeed News that because it's still an active investigation, they cannot release any more information at this time. But they have been actively fielding tips about who may have taken the animals, why, and how.

"The SFPD said evidence at the zoo indicated the animals were forcefully taken from their enclosures, and are continuing their investigation in hopes of finding the remaining [four] missing animals," Anderson said.

Current and former affiliates of the zoo told BuzzFeed News the strange and saddening news came as a huge shock, as the zoo is extremely thorough and careful about the animals' care.

Matt Stamey /

"We want people to understand this is a violation to our zoo. Our zookeepers are students and they’re extremely passionate," said Jade Salamone, the conservation education specialist at the zoo. "To have animals they work with on a daily basis be taken — it’s devastating."

Kali Wolf, a former student zookeeper there, told BuzzFeed News there's "a very heavy checks and balance system" at the zoo to ensure safety.

"Everything is very safe; everything is checked," she said. "Every lock is touched — every morning, every afternoon, and every evening before we leave."

Wolf said she and her former peers are "completely floored" and that this incident is "completely out of the ordinary."

"It’s an incredibly bizarre circumstance. I don’t know how these enclosures get into," she added.

Zoo staffers believe the animals — some of them on the protected species list — were stolen, possibly for the illegal pet trade.

Seng Chye Teo / Getty Images

"At this point we weren’t positive with the first instance, but with the [second] one we do feel the animals were stolen," Salamone said. "Often with animals in the pet trade, these are the animals that are taken. Some of the animals they took were quite valuable."

The gopher tortoises, for example, are a protected species, so tampering with them is a third-degree felony.

Police said there is good evidence that the animals were deliberately and systematically taken.

A few of the animals still missing are also on medication and require special care from zookeepers, so it's "imperative" that they're found and safely recovered immediately, both Anderson and Salamone stressed to BuzzFeed News.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.