Metal theft investigation exposes exotic animals living in poor conditions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 4:41 p.m. CDT; updated 1:08 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CALLAO — A theft investigation in northern Missouri led to the rescue of more than 200 animals, including chinchillas, alligators and baboons, Macon County Sheriff Robert Dawson said Tuesday.

Dawson said his office began investigating a scrap metal theft in Macon over the weekend and that led deputies to Daniel Lee's house near Callao. Dawson said officers were looking for stolen property when they found an unusual mix of animals in poor living conditions.

Nearly 200 chinchillas were found in cages inside a tractor-trailer that was parked in tall grass behind Lee's house. Dawson said two baboons were in a metal building in separate cages that were cramped and left them with little room to move. Also found were peacocks, llamas, dachshunds and two alligators.

Dawson said some of the dogs that were found were not in cages but were being kept in the house in dirty conditions.

The sheriff said the animals were not injured and did not appear to be abused. He said there's evidence that Lee was selling some of the dogs, but it was not clear what he was doing with the other animals or where he got them.

The animals were taken away by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the Sheriff's Department. Dawson said he believes that Lee, 43, will be allowed to keep the alligators and some of the dogs.

Lee has been charged with one count of misdemeanor animal abuse and one felony count of theft related to the scrap metal investigation. He was jailed on $10,000 bond. He does not yet have an attorney, according to the sheriff and court records.

Callao is about 70 miles north of Columbia.



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