Aquarium staff was on alert for Dallas Zoo suspect when they spotted him visiting

The Texas man accused of taking two monkeys from the Dallas Zoo and tampering with other exhibits calmly visited a Dallas aquarium, where employees quickly identified him as the suspect in a string of odd zoo incidents.

An image of a man, now identified as 24-year-old Davion Irvin, had been circulated after the incidents at the zoo, and Paula Carlson said she and her colleagues at the Dallas World Aquarium were on heightened alert all week.

Those wide eyes paid off, authorities said, when aquarium employees spotted Irvin and called the Dallas Zoo, which notified police, leading to the man’s arrest.

“I immediately called my friend at the Dallas Zoo and said ‘I don’t think I’m crazy, but I believe I might have seen your person of interest’ and they acted on it immediately and the rest is history,” Carlson, the aquarium’s director of husbandry, said Friday night.

More coverage of the suspicious incidents at the Dallas Zoo

An uneventful Thursday afternoon turned upside down when a colleague of Carlson’s rushed up to her and said the most wanted man in North Texas animal circles might be in the rain forest exhibit of their aquarium.

“One of our staff members had seen him and said to me ‘I think this may be the person of interest they’re looking for but I’m not sure. Can you take a look?'” Carlson said.

“So I thought OK, let me look. And sure enough, he really met that description.”

For the next 20 minutes, Carlson said she periodically approached the man and chatted about the underwater life they were observing.

Carlson, 58, didn’t want to smother him with attention, so she made sure to engage other guests — all while keeping an eye on him and letting security know what she was doing.

The man asked routine questions about manatees, octopus and sawfish and didn’t seem different to Carlson than any other aquarium guest.

“I felt like he was very curious about animals, to me it seemed like a genuine curiosity, not unlike the visitors we get here, ‘what is this, what is that?'” Carlson said.

Carlson, a longtime aquarium employee, didn’t recognize the man as a frequent visitor.

“He only looked familiar because of the fact that I had seen his picture,” she said. “I had, through social media, access pretty quickly to that picture. So when I wasn’t with him, I looked back at that picture and went ‘Oh yeah,’ and reinforced to myself that he very much looked like the guy.”

When the man left the aquarium, Carlson jumped on the phone and let a friend at the Dallas Zoo know. The zoo then called police and they got on the suspect’s trail.

Carlson said she didn’t want to create a stir if the man wasn’t the person in the photo released by police, so she called her friend whom she often talks to about other zoo-related things.

“And I just said, ‘Hey I think I may have seen the person you all are looking for.’ And they took the ball and ran with it. And as we know now, this was the person of interest,” she said.

Irvin has been accused of taking two emperor tamarin monkeys from their habitat and also linked with the tampering of the zoo’s clouded leopard and langur monkey exhibits, police said Friday. The leopard escaped and was missing for several hours before being found on zoo grounds.

He was being held in the Dallas County jail on two counts of burglary of a building, five counts of cruelty to non-livestock animals and one count of cruelty to livestock animals, jail records showed.

Police said help from the public was crucial in making the arrest.

“We say to people all the time that one bit of information that you have can help us make a break in the case,” Dallas police spokesperson Kristin Lowman said Friday.

“The tip that came in for the home in Lancaster that led us to the missing monkeys; the tip that came in that he was around the Dallas World Aquarium that allowed us to go and find this individual. We want you to call us and make that tip,” she said.

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