Zookeepers are on the hunt for a man suspected of releasing almost a dozen meerkats from their enclosure and onto the Essex seafront.

Video footage from the Sea Life Adventure Centre in Southend showed the man pulling at the glass of the enclosure after allegedly breaking into the site.

He could also be seen climbing on top of another enclosure in the park and looking out across the surrounding area.

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The meerkats, which escaped shortly after the footage was captured, were seen making their way along the Southend beach front before seeking shelter in a mini-golf course.

A team of workers from the centre’s sister site, the nearby Adventure Island theme park, attended the scene along with police and PCSOs and representatives of the RSPCA to herd the meerkats back to their enclosure.

A statement posted to the centre’s Facebook page said: “An idiot decided to break into Sealife Adventure Wild, and proceeded to wreck the purpose-built meerkat enclosure, allowing the meerkats to escape onto the Seafront putting both our meerkats and the public at risk.

“The act of a strange person damaging their home would have caused distress and fear – and encouraged the meerkats to leave a place where they have always been safe.

“Out on the seafront the meerkats… would have felt more panic at being in an alien environment where they could come to harm. Any animal in distress is potentially dangerous – they don’t understand that people are trying to help – and meerkats have a powerful bite.”

The centre is now offering a £1000 reward for anyone who can help identify the man caught on camera.

An Essex Police spokesperson said: "This is a very sad and frustrating incident, this placed the animals in danger and raised public concern for absolutely no gain.

“We are working with Sealife Adventure and Adventure Island to ensure the person responsible is identified and brought to justice.”

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