WYNNEWOOD — Authorities in Garvin County are trying to determine whether a man went too far in protesting the G.W. Interactive Zoological Park after a chinchilla was found dead near the park's entrance and another was abandoned inside the zoo's gift shop.
The bizarre incident, which played out Sunday while the park in Wynnewood was open to the public, is under investigation by the Garvin County sheriff's office.
Law enforcement and zoo officials are blaming the chinchilla's death on unnamed animal rights activists.
Zoo Manager John Reinke said park visitors who saw the incident unfold Sunday told him that a man, woman and apparently some children were making some kind of video showing a dead chinchilla near the park's entrance.
“The witnesses we have ... they said they heard them saying, ‘Look at this dead chinchilla we found at the G.W. zoo,'” Reinke said. “Some time after that, a guy came in with another chinchilla and asked if we could take it ... that he was moving and couldn't take care of it anymore.”
Reinke said the zoo “didn't really want it or need it” but the man — who wore a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses in the images captured on the park's surveillance cameras — insisted they take the chinchilla.
“He said, ‘What if I make a donation?'” Reinke said. “He went out to his car — he said to get his wallet — but he never came back inside.”
Surveillance footage from the zoo shows the vehicle the man was driving had Nebraska license plates, park officials said.
The footage has been turned over to the sheriff's office, Reinke said.
Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes said his office is investigating the death of the chinchilla as a case of animal cruelty, but noted that federal crimes may have been committed, as well.
“At the least, we appear to have an animal that has been abused and died due to abuse,” Rhodes said. “And there's a federal statute out there — the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act — that may have been violated.
“The FBI will have to decide on that.”
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was signed into law in November 2006 and is designed to give “the Department of Justice the necessary authority to apprehend, prosecute, and convict individuals committing animal enterprise terror,” according to language in the act.