The Dallas Zoo has been the target of several criminal acts including animal theft, animal endangerment, vandalism, and suspected intentional injury to a vulture found dead with a suspicious wound.  A suspect was just arrested and charged with animal cruelty related to the theft of two tamarin monkeys, Bella and Finn, who were fortunately found and returned to the zoo.  The monkeys lost weight during their ordeal, but no other injuries have been reported. 

The suspect is reportedly being investigated for the other animal-related incidents at the zoo, including:  intentional damage to the mesh fence enclosing a clouded leopard, leading to her temporary escape and recapture; intentional damage to the mesh fence enclosing the zoo’s langur monkeys; and suspicious death of the vulture.

In addition to charges of animal cruelty and property damage, should the suspect be charged with violations of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a federal law originally codified as the Animal Enterprise Protection Act in 1992?

The AETA provides for the protections of zoos and other animal enterprises against those who physically intrude into an animal enterprise and damage property, disrupt the business, harm the animals, cause economic harm, and/or threatens associated persons with death or serious bodily injury.

An offense under the AETA, 18 USC §43(a), occurs, in relevant part, when

“Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes to be used the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce—

(1) for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise; and

(2) in connection with such purpose—

(A) intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise”

Violations of the AETA do not require harm to people—economic harm as prescribed in the act, can qualify. 

Federal prosecutors considering such charges would have to determine whether the criminal acts against the Dallas Zoo, creating hazardous conditions for its impacted animals, caused sufficient economic harm and constituted violations of the AETA. 

Whoever performed these criminal acts should be sufficiently punished for intentionally exposing these animals to harm.