July 13, 2019
Meerkats Escape Their Zoo Enclosure After Being Freed By Vandal Caught On CCTV

A mob or gang of meerkats escaped from their enclosure at Sealife Adventure zoo in Southend-on-Sea when a man was caught on CCTV breaking open the meerkat enclosure.

After the vandal broke apart their home, The Daily Mail reports that the mob of meerkats made a run for it, and caused chaos in the park. The man was caught climbing into the meerkat enclosure, damaging the roof and in the process, freeing all of the animals.

Sealife's director, Lucy Hodge, believes the meerkats would have been so scared that they would have run away from their home hoping to seek safety. The meerkats were able to reach the seafront before the rescuers were able to gather the creatures and get them back to their home.

Because the zoo was closed at the time of the break-in, employees had to be called, but those working at nearby Adventure Island stepped in to help. Hodge explains that luckily, the shirts at the nearby park are the same shade of blue, and the meerkats thought that one of the employees, Melissa, seemed familiar.

"The meerkats recognized Melissa's Blue shirt (the same color as the Sealife Adventure Team) which encouraged them to rally around her."
Lead animal keeper Nick arrived and was able to lead all of the meerkats but one back to the enclosure. Hodge explains that the last meerkat was scared, hiding on the mini-golf course.
"Our last meerkat was cowering behind the mini-golf kiosk – because of distress caused by the thoughtless act of vandalizing their enclosure. Curator Nicki – who coordinated the rescue, squeezed behind the kiosk, and the meerkat was soon bravely caught by a community support police officer."
Two employees stayed overnight with the meerkats to make sure the vandal didn't return, keeping them safe. Hodge and the rest of the staff of the zoo are trying to help the police catch the man who broke into the meerkat enclosure. Sealife Adventure is offering a £1,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest.

The meerkats in the zoo were originally from the now-defunct Tropical Wings in South Woodham Ferrers, and move to their current enclosure in 2017.

BBC News revealed that the meerkat enclosure was "trashed" according to Inspector Ian Hughes of the Essex Police.
"This placed the animals in danger and raised public concern."
Hughes says that the community is working together to identify the man responsible and bring him to justice.