Dodge City police investigate possible kidnapping, assault on monkeys at zoo

Wright Park Zoo and Dodge City PD

DODGE CITY, Kan. (KWCH) Vern the tufted Capuchin monkey recovers from a surgically-repaired injury at Dodge City's Wright Park Zoo as police investigate how he got hurt and how his son ended up outside the city limits.

On Sept. 4, the zoo reported 2-year-old Pickett being found outside Dodge City and many assumed the monkey managed to escape. That morning, the zoo reports Vern was found injured in his enclosure. Initially, the zoo said Vern's injuries were minor. It turned out to be a more serious case that required surgery to repair broken bones.

"Based on (the Dodge City Police Department's) investigation as of today (Friday), we don't not believe the little monkey, Pickett, found his way outside the enclosure on his own," Dodge City Police Chief Drew Francis says. "Nor do we believe he traveled to where he was found on his own. His father's injury appears to be from blunt force trauma in excess to what would occur from a fall."

Police believe someone gained access to the monkeys' enclosure and injured Vern as he tried to protect his son, Pickett, from being taken.

"Vern is very protective of the younger monkey and would not have let him go without a fight," Wright Park Zoo Head Zookeeper Hannah Schroder says. "Unfortunately, this suspected altercation resulted in a broken kneecap."

Vern underwent surgery at Kansas State University. That surgery happened Sunday, which was deemed successful, the zoo says.

"Vern is recovering well, but will have to spend the next six to eight weeks away from his family while he recovers," Schroder says. "He is back at the zoo and will remain behind the scenes until his injuries are healed.

Meanwhile, the investigation into what happened at the zoo continues.

"Though I doubt the culprit has the decency to come forward, I also suspect someone may know who committed this act or have an idea who would do this," Francis says. "If that's you, we would greatly appreciate talking to you."

Anyone with information on what happened early this month at the Dodge City zoo should call Dodge City police. Police say you can make an anonymous tip by texting "DCPD" and your tip to 85=47411 (tip411).

The Wright Park Zoo says Vern was 1-year-old when he came to the zoo in 1988 with a female Capuchin monkey named Charro.

"The pair has had at least four offspring and live with their two youngest sons, Jack and Pickett," the zoo says. "Capuchin monkeys are native to South America and live mostly in trees, only coming to the ground occasionally for food and water. Their populations are declining in the wild as they face threats of deforestation, habitat loss, and capture for the pet trade."