EL PASO, Texas — The video was seen worldwide. An El Paso woman jumping into the spider monkey enclosure at the zoo and feeding two of the animals Cheetos in May 2021. For the woman in the video, the backlash was swift. She was arrested and lost her job at an El Paso law firm, and received harassment online from people concerned with the health of the monkeys. She now faces a pending criminal trespass case.
Her name is Luz “Lucy” Rae. A year later, she is working for a new law firm and claims she “did not do anything wrong” the day of the incident. She decided to sit down and speak with ABC-7 exclusively.
On May 22, 2021, Rae says she visited the El Paso zoo with a friend. That same day, another zoo guest videoed Rae climbing over a two-foot fence and entering the spider monkey enclosure, crossing a three-foot-deep moat, and feeding two of the monkeys Cheetos. She is then seen walking back through the moat and climbing out of the enclosure.
The 37-second video clip went viral across the world, making headlines all over the internet.
“I was shocked that someone had recorded it and shocked that it went viral,” Rae explained.
Rae would not answer why she decided to go into the enclosure that day. Her new boss, attorney Mark T. Davis, said there was a pending criminal lawsuit, and they did not want to talk about the incident, but she believes what happened was not a crime.
“Well, I don’t think I did anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did not hurt anyone,” Rae said.
Rae received a lot of criticism for feeding the animals Cheetos. At the time the video went viral, zoo officials said the monkeys are on a strict diet and even have a sign posted on the enclosure that asks guests not to feed the animals. Davis and Rae both argue that one Cheeto would not harm the animals.
“No animal was ever abused,” Davis explained, adding that there are many videos online that show monkeys consuming all types of human food, like “popcorn” and “beer.”
Rae even argues the monkeys were not affected by her presence in their enclosure, saying the monkeys were “extremely excited” when she climbed in with them. But zoo officials disagree with that perspective.
“I can see how people would look at it and see a monkey making noise and jumping around, and that’s really cute and fun, but the people who know those monkeys know they were actually really upset,” Dr. Victoria Milne, chief veterinarian at the El Paso Zoo, said in response to Rae’s claim.
Dr. Milne agrees that a single Cheeto will not harm the animals but says it is not Rae’s decision to make when feeding the animals. Dr. Milne says the monkeys have special food consisting of fruits, vegetables, and primate biscuits that fit their diet. On occasion, Dr. Milne says they will treat the animals to things such as Jell-O, peanut butter, and Cheerios, but not Cheetos. The real crime, Dr. Milne says, was what Rae did before feeding the animals: going into the enclosure.
Dr. Milne has worked with the spider monkeys for 16 years. The two monkeys, Libby and Sunday, who are 35 and 42-years-old respectively, have lived in the zoo their entire life. Dr. Milne says not even the handlers get as close to the monkeys as Rae did in the video.
“Just having people jump in and do whatever they feel like can be really disruptive for those animals on the short-term and really unhealthy and unsafe for those animals in the long-term,” Dr. Milne explained.
Rae defends her actions for jumping in the enclosure, saying there was no signage that prohibited the action. Dr. Milne disagrees.
“In the society we live in, in general, a fence without a gate is a barrier that means you’re not supposed to go in there,” Dr. Milne said. The zoo decided to extend the height of the fence in one area of the enclosure.
El Paso police arrested Rae for criminal trespass. A spokesman for the department said the investigation into Rae’s case is still open, almost one year later. That means the district attorney’s office cannot prosecute the criminal trial until they are handed all the evidence and facts from police.
A spokesman for the zoo says Rae is currently not banned from entering the facility. The spokesman says the case is under litigation, and pending the outcome of a criminal case, a decision will be made after.
Rae says she has no plans of apologizing to the zoo for what happened. When asked if she learned any lessons from the incident and the fallout afterward, Rae responded, saying, “I learned just keep the Cheetos to myself. I can’t share.”