Zoo animals fed chili peppers

CNJ file photo: Andy DeLisle Police are investigating an incident in which spider monkeys and ring-tailed lemurs at Hillcrest Park Zoo were fed chili peppers by visitors over the weekend.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Police are investigating an incident in which spider monkeys and ring-tailed lemurs at Hillcrest Park Zoo were fed chili peppers by visitors over the weekend.

Zoo staff detained two families and contacted police Sunday afternoon after witnesses saw them throw green peppers into the spider monkey cage, according to a police report.

Chilis were also found in the lemur cage, the report said.

Detained family members said they did not bring the peppers into the zoo, but were given them by other suspects in the case, the report said.

The report said police obtained information about the other suspects and plan to conduct further interviews, investigating the case as cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor.

Zoo Director Herschel Arnold said when the animals handled the peppers and rubbed their eyes, their eyes were burned. Some of the younger animals still had redness around their eyes on Monday, he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people that come through are very good,” he said, explaining it is not a problem that happens often.

The animals are trusting when offered food items, he said, which is one of the reason for signs posted throughout the zoo prohibiting the feeding of animals.

“They don’t have a clue,” he said. “They just saw it was food and they thought, ‘a person gave it to me so it must be good,’ and it wasn’t.”

Arnold said the primates were given extra attention following the incident.

“They were coddled the rest of the day. They’re our kids,” he said.