By now, most people in Southern California have heard that Aquinas Kasbar, 19, of Newport Beach pleaded guilty on Monday to breaking into the Santa Ana Zoo in 2018 and stealing Isaac, a 32-year-old ring-tailed lemur that’s the oldest such creature in captivity in North America (Kasbar also damaged Isaac’s enclosure, which allowed other lemurs and capuchin monkeys to escape, though zoo officials later recaptured them). Kasbar then took Isaac to the Marriott in Newport Beach, where he abandoned the cute little guy (who is part of an endangered species, by the way) in a drawer with the cryptic notes “Lemur (with tracker)” and “This belongs to the Santa Ana Zoo it was taken last night please bring it to police.” Kasbar faces a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine, according to a statement issued by the FBI on May 20 (and yes, zoo officials say Isaac is fine now).
Though unquestionably odd, this actually isn’t the strangest thing to happen at the Santa Ana Zoo. That distinction, in my opinion, goes to the 2015 “Tarzan” incident. On Aug. 4 of that year, John Williams Rodenborn, went to the zoo, removed his shirt, slathered mud onto his body, then began climbing trees near the monkey exhibit while proclaiming that he was “Tarzan.” When police arrested him, they found methamphetamine on his person (I know, shocking). Rodenborn was later arrested for other crimes, and ended up in a state mental facility.
Here are few other notable events that took place at the zoo over the last few decades:
- In 1984, a wallaby died tragically when zookeepers mistakenly placed an emu (a large, flightless bird) in its enclosure, because a similar bird had lived in its enclosure at a previous zoo. But the wallaby didn’t like the look of the emu at all, and tried to escape over the fence, severely wounding itself. According to a Feb. 3, 1984 Los Angeles Times story, zoo officials ultimately attributed the wallaby’s death “to heart failure caused by fright.”
- During a rash of zoo robberies in 1986, thieves cut into the chain link fence alongside the 5 Freeway and grabbed nine birds: three scarlet macaws, two blue and gold macaws, two double yellow-head Amazon parrots, and two green-wing macaws. Zoo officials estimated the value of the stolen birds at $13,000.
- A produce truck overturned on the 5 Freeway near the zoo in March 1993. That was bad news for the trucking company but good news for the zoo–in fact, the Mar. 3, 1993 Honolulu Advertiser reported that the animals inside were dining on potatoes, kiwi fruit, eggs, and other treats for some time after the accident.
- In 2009, the zoo nearly got booted out of Prentice Park because it didn’t have enough monkeys. As part of the 1949 deed, the zoo is legally obligated to have at least 50 monkeys on display (in recent months, the zoo’s monkey population had dipped to a mere 48). Joseph Powell II, J.E. Prentice’s grand nephew, threatened to boot the zoo if they couldn’t come up with the monkeys. But zoo officials scrambled, and managed to boost the population back up to 50.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.