At least one great horned owl is still missing after an individual or group broke into Baraboo’s Ochsner Park Zoo earlier this week and released multiple animals, according to authorities.
On either Monday night or Tuesday morning, a person or persons cut all of the padlocks on the exterior gates of the zoo and entered, Baraboo Police Chief Rob Sinden said.
About 60 animals of 30 different species reside at the free-admission zoo, which opened in 1926, according to Mike Hardy, Baraboo’s parks, recreation and forestry director.
Once inside, the culprit cut off between 15 and 20 padlocks on animals’ enclosures and also propped doors open, Sinden said.
“It was a clear intent to try to stir those animals or release animals,” Sinden said.
Sinden believes releasing animals was the objective, not financial gain, he added.
They were unsuccessful at opening “any dangerous animal cages,” but did attempt entry into a bear cage, Sinden said.
“Thank goodness that they were not able to open that door,” he said. “That could have been extremely dangerous for individuals in our community.”
While the monkey exhibit was opened, the monkeys did not leave, Hardy said. The person(s) also kicked in a fence panel to where the goats and pigs stay.
Four animals left the premises: two otters and two great horned owls.
“They’re not used to being out,” Sinden said.
Professional care and having someone feed them is all they know, he explained.
On Tuesday afternoon, the two missing otters were found together by a kayaker next to the nearby Baraboo River’s riverbank.
“They were found to be happy and healthy,” Sinden said.
On Thursday morning, what appears to be one of the missing owls was recaptured, according to Hardy.
Veterinarian staff are working to confirm the animal’s identity and are checking for any injuries, he said in an email. But zookeepers are “pretty confident” it’s one of the missing owls.
The still-missing owl has no physical marking or tag that would make visual identification easy, Hardy said in an email. Behavior would be the easiest way to ID it.
“We expect they will not travel far from the zoo initially, as the area around the zoo is wooded in addition to their only known food source has been in the zoo,” Hardy said.
While the owl does have the physical capacity to hunt, it has never had to learn how to, he explained, so it could become weak and spend more time on the ground.
“Additionally, as they are imprinted, they will likely be more used to human activity and may be less likely to fly away upon seeing people nearby,” he said.
Sinden urged people who may spot the missing owl to not to approach it themselves. Instead, contact the Baraboo Police Department at 608-356-4895.
“We have the zoo professionals on stand-by,” he said.
Ochsner — which has an annual attendance of about 48,000 people — relies on donations to care for the animals, Hardy said in an email. Summer hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily.
The zoo was closed for “investigation purposes” on Tuesday and reopened Wednesday.