A preschool director watched as a strange furry animal scuttled around the playground of Hope Lutheran Day School in the San Francisco Bay Area last fall. He couldn’t figure out what it was: some kind of woodland something, right?
But James Trinh, 5-years-old, knew.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the preschooler cried out, “There’s a lemur! There’s a lemur!”
Thus ended a search for the missing endangered lemur, who had been kidnapped from the San Francisco Zoo on October 13th. Maki, the 21-year-old ring-tailed lemur, suffers from ailments of age, including arthritis, so it was important to get him back home. Since returning to the zoo, zoo spokeswoman Nancy Chan says he is “back to being his normal lemur self.”
Cory John McGilloway was charged with federal violations of the Endangered Species Act for kidnapping the lemur. Prosecutors reported to ABC News that he could spend years behind bars if convicted. The offense is considered a misdemeanor.
McGilloway, 31 and from Los Angeles, has public defender Elisse Larouche as his defense; she has declined comment.
McGilloway, according to the FBI, is said to have entered the zoo a little before 8pm on October 13. Maki, who moves slowly due to his age and arthritis, was taken from his exhibit, which he shares with other Madagascar-native ring-tailed lemurs.
The break-in was discovered the next day by a zoo horticulturalist and officials offered a $2,100 reward for the return of the animal.
“We understand that lemurs are adorable animals, but Maki is a highly endangered animal that requires special care,” Jason Watters, the zoo’s executive vice president for animal behavior and wellness, said to ABC7 back in October.
Hours later, a woman contacted the San Francisco Police to report a man walking a lemur. She took a video that followed the man to a maroon car.
McGilloway seemed over his head; he had to resort to Google several times to figure out what to feed his lemur. Court records show that he searched for “foods to feed lemurs,” “lemurs eat chocolate,” “veterinary care for lemurs,” “names for monkey” and “what is required to own a lemur.”
Additionally, he Googled “how much is it to buy a lemur”, which prosecutors assert was in an attempt to sell Maki. It is illegal to privately own a lemur in California.
It’s not clear how McGilloway lost the lemur or how Maki appeared at the day school playground south of San Francisco, but he did.
“We’ve had coyotes, skunks, raccoons,” school Director Cynthia Huang told the Chronicle. “I thought, ‘Are you sure it’s not a raccoon?’ ”
But James, that 5-year-old, knew for sure.
He later told a T.V. reporter what the lemur looked like: “A lemur! Gray, black and white. I like the way they look.”
The school reported the lemur to police and the children watched as authorities rescued Maki. He was back at the zoo soon enough and was deemed generally in alright health.
McGilloway was arrested the same day. Police received a report of a stolen dump truck, which they recovered with McGilloway driving. They later found his maroon car and discovered a stainless steel bowl that belonged to the zoo.
McGilloway also had photos of Maki in his lap and in the car. There is DNA evidence that links McGilloway to the leash and the zoo’s scene.
Zoo director Tanya Peterson said at a news conference:
“I thank everybody for their involvement. It was perfect ending. And I guess I need to also thank the perpetrator for doing the right thing in the end.”
And what of the littlest hero of the day? James got a certificate of honor from San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Peterson gave James a Maki stuffed animal and a lifetime membership to the zoo.