Endangered monkey smuggling charges against South Texas zoo
5 mins read

Endangered monkey smuggling charges against South Texas zoo

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) – Incubators have been brought in and zoo staff are working around the clock to try to keep alive dozens of baby monkeys smuggled into South Texas from Mexico.

Since March, the Gladys Porter Zoo in the border town of Brownsville has been struggling to staff and equip itself to care for 18 baby Mexican spiders and a howler monkey that federal authorities confiscated from smugglers on separate occasions.


A baby Mexican spider monkey and its parents watch closely on Monday, June 10, 2024, on display at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Eighteen young spiders have been smuggled here since March, and the zoo takes care of them in special quarantine rooms, where they stay in incubators. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“It’s deliberate smuggling. And the saddest thing is that when they got the little spiders, they killed the mother. And if there are 19 of us, how many more got through the border undetected?” Dr. Pat Burchfield, the zoo’s executive director and CEO, told Border Report on Monday.

Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought the monkeys.

They were found in backpacks and hidden in vehicles at CBP ports of entry and other locations along the border.

Some were barely alive.

Some were only a few weeks old and barely the size of a human fist, and others were several months old.

But all were taken from their mothers and now lack the necessary skills a mother teaches a child to survive in the wild, Burchfield said.

Mexican spiders are an endangered species, as was on display on Monday, June 10, 2024, at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“You took a monkey from its mother and she spent several years in the wild learning how to be a wild monkey,” he said.

These babies must be hand-fed with syringes every three hours and must stay in intensive care incubators to keep their bodies warm enough to survive.

Burchfield said this is labor-intensive for a zoo that also cares for 1,500 other species.

The zoo reached out to other zoos for help and to see if they would be able to take in and care for one of the monkeys.

The zoo also launched a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $25,000 – as of Monday evening, the account had collected over $1,600.

Burchfield said the illegal exotic pet trade is a global industry worth between $7 billion and $20 billion.

He also says Mexican cartels are now getting into the business.

Dr. Pat Burchfield is the CEO and Executive Director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

“Now we have large criminal organizations involved in animal trafficking,” said Burchfield, who has worked with Mexican officials for years to help track and protect Riley Kemp’s sea turtle.

“Wildlife trafficking has become a serious crime around the world,” he said.

The agency reported that in 2022, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents and other law enforcement partners investigated more than 10,000 wildlife trafficking cases and collected more than $11,000,000 in criminal penalties.

He believes the monkey business in the US is driven by buyers who think monkeys are “cute.”

The monkeys can sell for over $8,000 each.

However, he says they do not make good pets and are illegal to own unless purchased from a legal pet dealer.

Mexican spider exhibit at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

They can also carry parasites and diseases, as well as transmitting human diseases. Burchfield said that’s why 19 monkeys are currently in a special quarantine facility at the zoo.

He added that as the monkeys get older, they will also be prone to biting and will not be suitable for home life.

Young zoo visitors Aden, Emiliano and Alina Acosta of Peñitas, Texas, say they enjoy coming and seeing the monkeys, but they wouldn’t want to have one as a pet.

“They are dangerous and can ruin everything inside. They can really go crazy,” said 8-year-old Alina.

“Keep them in the zoo,” her 10-year-old brother Emiliano told her.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at [email protected].