Brookhaven Town officials have stepped up security measures at the town ecology center in Holtsville after two incidents in which animals were released from their pens.
Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro, who is in charge of the combined park and animal preserve, said the grounds now are monitored around the clock after a wolf hybrid was taken from the facility last month and a second incident last week in which a pair of horses were let out of their enclosures.
"We've never had anything like this happen before," Losquadro said in an interview. "We now have 24 hours a day, seven days a week, either people on the grounds or electronic surveillance. There were areas where that was not the case before and is the case now. ... We have put steps into place to make sure every part of the grounds is monitored."
Nakita, a 7-year-old female hybrid wolf, was reported missing on June 25 from the Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center on Buckley Road in Holtsville. Authorities said one or more people cut through a fence the night before to remove Nakita from the facility.
A Suffolk County police spokeswoman said Monday the incident was still under investigation.
Last week, two mustangs at the Holtsville facility were found outside their pens, Losquadro said, adding the horses were unharmed. Suffolk police also are investigating that incident.
"We don't know if it was the same people who were responsible for the wolf," Losquadro said.
He said the break-in last week appeared to be "mischief to cause problems." The public was not in danger from the break-ins, both of which occurred when the facility was closed, Losquadro said.
Chief Roy Gross, of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said several people called the group after it posted a $5,000 reward for information about Nakita's disappearance. Gross said Nakita, who had been kept as a pet before her owner turned her in to the SPCA, does not have the survival skills to live in the wild.
“If someone took that animal to release it into the wild, it was a death sentence for that wolf," Gross said. “To survive on her own was highly unlikely.”
Officials have asked the public not to approach Nakita if she is seen.
The ecology center, opened in the 1970s on the site of a former landfill, houses more than 100 animals, including goats, eagles, bobcats and buffalo. The facility, which also has swimming pools, hiking trails, greenhouses and a nature preserve, is visited by hundreds of people a day in the summer, Losquadro said.
He said many of the animals were rescued after they were injured or had been kept illegally as pets.
"These facilities are absolutely critical, and quite frankly there aren't enough of them," Losquadro said.