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Man sentenced to 7 years in prison for beating zoo monkey to death

Boise Police via AP, file

Michael J. Watkins was sentenced to seven years in prison after the death of a monkey at the Boise zoo. The patas monkey was found dead of blunt force trauma to the head and neck.

An Idaho man who admitted to breaking into a Boise zoo last year and killing a monkey was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday, court records show.

Michael Watkins, 22, of Weiser, Idaho, in March pleaded guilty to attempted grand theft, a felony, and misdemeanor animal cruelty stemming from the break-in and beating death of the monkey at Zoo Boise in November.

The primate was one of the zoo's two Patas monkeys, ground-dwelling animals from Africa that stand more than 2 feet tall and weigh about 35 pounds. They are rare in zoos but not endangered in the wild.

The case shook officials at the zoo and triggered an outpouring of sympathy and donations from animal lovers worldwide.

Watkins scaled the security fence at Zoo Boise in the pre-dawn hours of November 17 and attempted to steal the monkey, which bit him, police said. Watkins then kicked and hit the animal, severely wounding it, according to police. The monkey later died of blunt force trauma, zoo officials said.

Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns said on Thursday the sentencing of Watkins closed a particularly devastating chapter for the facility.

"We're moving on," he said. "The court has done its job and we're continuing to do our job."

In the days after the death, zoo staff sought to boost the spirits of the companion-less Patas monkey and considered shipping it to another zoo with primates since they are exceedingly social, Burns said.

Instead, Zoo Boise in December gained two female Patas monkeys donated by the Rosamund Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.

News about the monkey's death brought donations from across the United States and overseas, allowing the zoo to begin construction on Monday of a $250,000 exhibit for the three Patas monkeys, Burns said.