If you've ever been to a zoo, you'll have thought about stealing a monkey. Everyone has. There's something undeniably beguiling about their high-jinks and their squished little faces, their childish nature, and their wild spirit. And the fact they're a perfect size to stuff in a tote bag.
Few of us have ever had the courage to go through with it, though: to steal a monkey. And that may well be for the best. Because a 23-year-old New Zealander named John Casford almost died trying.
John admits he was "high as a kite" when he bypassed an unsecured gate, broke through two padlocks and entered the monkey enclosure at Wellington Zoo. He had it in his mind that he was going to catch one of the zoo's squirrel monkeys—a canopy-dwelling species from the Central and South Americas—and take it home to his girlfriend. The squirrel monkeys had other ideas.
"I don't know what happened in the squirrel monkey enclosure," said Wellington District Court judge Bill Hastings during John's sentencing last week. "The squirrel monkeys know. You say you couldn't find them and I don't speak squirrel [monkey].
"What I know is that by daybreak all the monkeys were distressed, two of them were injured, and you had a broken leg, two fractured teeth, a sprained ankle, and bruises on your back."
John reportedly told zookeepers that he'd broken his leg while jumping the boundary fence—but his attempted monkey heist was ultimately foiled by the fact that monkeys are not, as it turns out, just hairy little children with tails. They are savage acrobats that will beat the living piss out of anyone who wanders into their territory unannounced. And in this case, that someone also happened to be a wanted criminal.
Police had been chasing John for a string of unrelated offences over the previous seven months, including an unprovoked assault on a man waiting at traffic lights, an alcohol-fuelled attack at a convenience store, and assaults on a Wellington City Council community safety officer and a night shelter resident who refused to hand over cigarettes, the New Zealand Herald reports.
Judge Hastings sentenced him to two years and seven months in prison for both the attempted monkey burglary and the crime spree leading up to it. The judge pointed out that the 23-year-old would have put the monkey's life in jeopardy, had he managed to catch one, as well as endangering the wider community with a biohazard risk in the event that one of the monkeys managed to escape.
Squirrel monkeys are an endangered species that typically grow to around 35 centimetres and weigh no more than 1100 grams. They have the largest brain-to-body mass ratio of all the primates, live together in polygamous mating systems, and have been described as "small, nervous primates".