California Man Sentenced for Ring-Tailed Lemur Heist

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – An Orange County, California, man who broke into a zoo after hours to steal North America’s oldest ring-tailed lemur to keep as a pet was sentenced to three months in federal prison, prosecutors said Monday.

Issac the Lemur, photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California

Newport Beach resident Aquinas Kasbar broke into the Santa Ana Zoo after hours in 2018 with the intent of stealing the endangered lemur, according to a statement by Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

Kasbar, 19, used bolt cutters to break into the zoo’s enclosures for lemurs and capuchin monkeys.

Several of the animals inside the enclosure escaped but were later recovered by zoo staff.

But Isaac – a 33-year-old ring-tailed lemur, or lemur catta, who was still inside the enclosure – was stolen by Kasbar, who later placed him inside a plastic box that lacked ventilation.

Lemurs are native to Madagascar and is on a list of the 25 most endangered primates, according to court documents.

A lemur’s lifespan is typically between 20 years and 25 years but they face increased threats due to the illegal pet trade, according to court papers.

A day after the zoo heist, Kasbar abandoned Isaac in front of a Newport Beach hotel, leaving him inside the plastic box with notes that read, “Lemur (with tracker)” and “This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring it to police.” 

Isaac was eventually returned unharmed to the zoo, authorities said Monday.

Kasbar pleaded guilty on July 8 to one misdemeanor count of unlawfully taking an endangered species. 

On Monday, U.S District Judge Andrew J. Guilford handed Kasbar a 90-day federal prison sentence and ordered him to pay $8,486 in restitution to the zoo.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Newport Beach Police Department, the FBI and the Santa Ana Police Department investigated the case.

The Santa Ana Zoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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