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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 July 2006, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Stolen monkey found with children
SpongeBob the squirrel monkey (picture from Chessington Zoo)
Squirrel monkeys need a special diet and are very territorial
A squirrel monkey stolen from a zoo has been found playing with children in south London.

Zoo keepers at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey discovered he was missing from his enclosure on Monday.

They said SpongeBob was not a pet but a wild animal and people were warned not to approach the monkey.

A member of the public found him playing with children in Clapham on Wednesday and handed him in safely to police in Brixton, officers said.

We are hopeful he will get back to his normal, playful self soon
Sonia Freeman

The zoo said that two-year-old SpongeBob, a Bolivian squirrel monkey, had been safely returned to the theme park after his three-day ordeal and would be put back in his enclosure following health checks.

But keepers said he was still upset and unsettled after what had clearly been "a disturbing experience" for him, during which he suffered from weight-loss, hunger and stress.

"We are hopeful he will get back to his normal, playful self soon," head of mammals Sonia Freeman said.

'Cheeky personality'

The theft was discovered early on Monday, when Chessington zoo keepers noticed two fences had been damaged in the new Monkey and Bird Garden walk-through area.

Ms Freeman said at the time that keepers were "devastated" at the theft of the "much-loved" monkey, known for his "cheeky personality".

It is difficult to see how he got there by his own steam
Detective Constable David Burton

SpongeBob had only been at the zoo for three months and it was reported that his disappearance left all the squirrel monkeys in a state of turmoil as he was the only breeding male in the group.

Police said their investigation into the theft was still under way.

Detective Constable David Burton said he had no idea how SpongeBob travelled the 12 miles from the zoo to Clapham.

He said: "It is difficult to see how he got there by his own steam.

"We are treating this as a burglary. We are almost convinced he was taken by somebody, because of things like the way the fences at the zoo were cut."

Squirrel monkey stolen from zoo
18 Jul 06 |  Southern Counties

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