Owner of missing exotic wildlife sanctuary animals arrested for making false report to police

SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - A South Florida wildlife sanctuary owner has been arrested after several exotic animals were reported stolen.

Dozens of exotic animals including lemurs, monkeys and birds were reportedly stolen Saturday night, but a troubling twist has come to light Tuesday about one of the owners of the We Care Wildlife Sanctuary.

Josue Santiago is accused of making a false report and lying to police.

Miami-Dade Police said Santiago reported a $50,000 theft of his primates and other exotic animals, even though he allegedly moved those animals to the Carolinas himself to avoid wildlife authorities who had been looking into the sanctuary.

“It was all planned. It was all a farce. It was all a lie,” said Diane, who did not want to give her last name.

Diane said the missing animals are with her in South Carolina.

She explained on Facebook that Santiago wanted to hide the animals.

She said in part, “I was contacted by Jose and Armando on Friday, and they said they needed a safe place for their animals. I told them to contact their attorney and bring them here and let them know where everyone was and that they were safe and to work out their issues. Legally!!”

Diane told 7News that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was investigating this case.

“At the time, they were telling me that the FWC was being unreasonable, the animals were well taken care of, when that wasn’t really the case.”

The supposed burglary was exposed by a volunteer at the sanctuary on Sunday.

Volunteer Cindy Robert spoke with 7News and pleaded with the public to return the animals. “I’m sick. I’m absolutely sick about the whole thing,” she said. “I’m gonna fight and make sure these animals go to a good place.”

She was told the animals were stolen, and that it was likely the result of a fake Craigslist post that stated the sanctuary was going out of business. The post also said the animals were free for the taking.

When people showed up to pick out the animals, the sanctuary’s staff called police to send them away.

“I believe the Craigslist ad was all a farce,” Diane said. “I believe they planned on staging this up to then.”

Diane said she is working with authorities, and the lemurs, marmosets and other animals will remain in her care.

Six exotic birds were mysteriously returned and left outside the property Tuesday morning, but more than a dozen tortoises and birds remain missing.

Robert and other volunteers said they feel burned after being lied to and sad the animals aren’t in their homes. “I hope he goes to jail, and I hope neither of them ever get animals again,” she said.

If you know where the missing animals are, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $1,000 reward.

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