Suspect named in zoo break-in that led to animals escaping

AARON WAYNE HOVIS(Baraboo Police Department)
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 2:28 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2022 at 4:11 PM CDT
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BARABOO, Wis. (WMTV) - An Indiana man has been identified as the suspect in the break-in at a Baraboo Zoo earlier this month that led to the escape of four animals.

According to the Baraboo Police Department, its investigators have identified Aaron Wayne Hovis as the suspect accused of damaging the locks on several animal exhibits at Ochsner Park Zoo and damaging the door on another exhibit. The damage allowed two river otters and a pair of Great Horned Owls to escape.

The police department has referred a count of misdemeanor criminal damage to property to the Sauk Co. District Attorney’s Office, which could decide to press further charges as warranted. A lieutenant with the police department told NBC15 News that investigators are still looking for the man, who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and is an over-the-road truck driver.

Of the four animals that escaped during the break-in, only one Great Horned Owl remains on the loose. The police department noted that it is believed “Linda,” as she is known, is still in the area.

Two otters, Mitch and Moe, were spotted by kayakers on the same day as the break-in and were located shortly after. Linda’s fellow owl, Jerry, was found safe three days after the break-in with two fractures in his wing.

The parks department said in Facebook post last Wednesday that the last sighting of Linda was on two days earlier, when she was seen roosting in a tree above a new llama barn. The parks department said Linda is getting weaker, but she is still able to fly fully. This makes recapturing her a bit difficult. Officials will only be able to collect her once she is on the ground and unable to fly into a tree.

Zoo staff published tips on June 9 for how to tell apart wild owls that roam the area from the ones missing from the Baraboo zoo.

Anyone who is near the Ochsner Park Zoo grounds and sees an owl on the ground should call the Baraboo Police Department’s non-emergency line at 608-356-4895, as it may be Linda.

Ochsner Park Zoo specialist Ellen Gallagher said on the day of the robbery, police believe the suspect or suspects’ primary motivation in the break-in was to release the animals. In their statement identifying Hovis as the suspect, the police department did not indicate a possible motive.

Of the multiple other cages that were opened when staff arrived at the zoo on June 7, those animals in other cages were still present.

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