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Man Charged with Kidnapping Lemur from San Francisco Zoo

A man accused of kidnapping a lemur from the San Francisco Zoo could spend up to a year in jail for violating the Endangered Species Act, prosecutors said Monday.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A man accused of kidnapping a lemur from the San Francisco Zoo could spend up to a year in jail for violating the Endangered Species Act, prosecutors said Monday.

Cory John McGilloway, a 31-year-old man from Los Angeles, is accused of poaching a rare ring-tailed lemur named Maki from the San Francisco Zoo on Oct. 13, 2020.

Maki’s disappearance set off a frantic hunt for the endangered creature in the San Francisco Bay Area last fall with zoo officials urging the public to help find the lemur and ensure his safe return.

According to prosecutors, McGilloway was caught on a cell phone video two days after Maki went missing on Treasure Island, an island in the San Francisco Bay about two miles off the city’s mainland shore. Prosecutors say the video shows a man with the distinctive tattoos, who they believe is McGilloway, walking a lemur on a leash to a maroon Saab.

On that same day, Oct. 15, at around 5 p.m., a 5-year-old boy spotted Maki at a playground in Daly City, a suburb south of San Francisco. Maki was retrieved and returned to the zoo. But the endangered lemur was hungry, dehydrated and agitated when authorities found him, according to written statements filed with the court.

Later that evening, police arrested McGilloway in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, just before midnight. Police were responding to a report of shoplifting when they reportedly saw McGilloway driving a stolen dump truck. A maroon Saab, presumably the same one seen in a cellphone video from Treasure Island earlier that day, was found nearby, according to prosecutors.

McGilloway appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley on Monday via video link from a Los Angeles jail. He was released on bond for charges related to the lemur kidnapping, but he remains in custody at this time, according to prosecutors.

When Maki went missing last fall, the San Francisco Zoo put out social media posts asking the public to help find him.

“We understand that lemurs are adorable animals, but Maki is a highly endangered animal that requires special care. We are asking the public for help in his return,” said Jason Watters, the zoo’s executive vice president of animal behavior and wellness, in a statement at the time.

The San Francisco Zoo hosts the largest outdoor lemur habitat in North America at its Lipman Family Lemur Forest, where seven species of lemurs reside.

Native to Madagascar, lemurs are considered some of the most threatened mammals on Earth. Ring-tailed lemurs, or Lemur catta, are one of the most recognizable species of lemur due to their distinctive striped tails.

In 2017, researchers found the ring-tailed lemur population had plummeted 95% since 2000, mostly due to habitat loss driven and deforestation in Madagascar.

This is not the first time an endangered lemur has disappeared from a California zoo. In 2018, a 32-year-old lemur named Isaac — the oldest ring-tailed lemur in North America — was stolen from Santa Ana Zoo in Orange County. A 19-year-old man was later arrested for the kidnapping.

The San Francisco Zoo has seen its share of animal thefts as well. A squirrel monkey named Banana Sun was taken in 2011 but later recovered. In 2000, two koalas went missing but were eventually returned.

The maximum penalty for one misdemeanor count of kidnapping an endangered animal is up to a year in jail and a $50,000 fine.

McGilloway’s public defender, Elisse Marie Larouche, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

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