Even now, Sean Coleman says he doesn’t believe animals, especially native ones, should be held in zoos. But the man who helped set Mani the hawk free from Henson Robinson Zoo in 2005 also says he made a big mistake in breaking the law.


Even now, Sean Coleman says he doesn’t believe animals, especially native ones, should be held in zoos.


But the man who helped set Mani the hawk free from Henson Robinson Zoo in 2005 also says he made a big mistake in breaking the law.


“There’s so many other ways to go about it,” Coleman said. “I did go about this in the wrong way. I need to accept responsibility.”


Coleman, 21, said he’s always had an eye for hawks, particularly red-tailed hawks like Mani, who survived on his own for nearly two months before being found in a local back yard the day before Thanksgiving.


Mani was found just one day before temperatures plummeted to the teens in a brutal end to an epic Indian summer. Chubby for a hawk when he was stolen, Mani had lost half his body weight and probably would not have survived a night in cold weather, zoo officials say.


Coleman said he only wanted Mani to fly.


“I was set on that one thing in my head,” Coleman said. “I’m sure it had some hard times.”


Mani, who came to the zoo in 1979, had lived in captivity almost his entire life. He was imprinted on humans and didn’t have the hunting skills to survive in the wild, said Talon Thornton, zoo director.


“I would imagine he enjoyed himself flying,” Thornton said. “He probably didn’t like the idea of finding his own food.”


Coleman was unrepentant when police, acting on a tip, arrested him a week after Mani disappeared, recalled Sgt. Jonathan Davis of the Springfield Park District police department.


“He felt sorry for the bird,” said Davis, who interviewed Coleman after his arrest.


“He said if he were able to free all the other birds that night, he would have. He wasn’t upset. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t remorseful or anything like that. He felt like what he’d done was the right thing.”


Concerned that Coleman and Adam Loper, who helped steal Mani and also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing charges on Friday, were seen as heroes by some people, Thornton arranged to speak with them shortly after Mani was recovered.


“I just wanted to sit them down and tell them the philosophy of the zoo,” Thornton said. “Taking a bird that had been in captivity and turning him loose, it’s just not going to happen.”


Coleman and Loper, 22, had clean criminal records before they took Mani. They had faced felony counts of burglary and theft but were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor trespassing charges after eight continuances in the case.


Coleman said he plans to become active in animal-rights issues once he completes probation.


“I’m putting that on the back burner now,” he said. “I’m in all this trouble.”


If there’s a silver lining to the case, Thornton said, it was the amount of public interest Mani’s disappearance stirred. All of a sudden, he said, people were noticing birds that had been around forever, and the zoo received dozens of e-mails and calls from people who thought they’d spotted him.


“The whole time Mani was gone, I think we educated an entire community about the different types of hawks in the area,” Thornton said.


Mani, who had outlived his expected lifespan by a decade, died four months after his return to the zoo. He has been stuffed and now is perched safely and permanently on a branch at the zoo, where he is used to teach schoolchildren about hawks.


Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or bruce.rushton@sj-r.com.





The two men who took Mani the red-tailed hawk from his enclosure at the Henson Robinson Zoo in 2005 pleaded guilty to misdemeanors Friday.


Sean Coleman, 21, of Glenarm and Adam Loper, 22, now a college student in St. Paul, Minn., were admonished by Circuit Judge Leo Zappa, who told them they committed “a stupid, stupid act” by taking the hawk, which had lived in captivity for more than 25 years, and setting it free.


Both Coleman and Loper had been charged with felony theft and burglary. They pleaded guilty to criminal trespass to state-supported property, after the Springfield Zoological Society agreed to a misdemeanor plea deal.


Each man will be on probation for two years, will perform 100 hours of community service and donate $2,000 to the zoological society.


Assistant state’s attorney Jay Magnuson said the $4,000, payable within six months, will be used for educational programs and security at the zoo.

“Neither one of you really thought this out,” Zappa told Coleman and Loper. “You’re lucky the hawk wasn’t harmed.”


He said the two also were fortunate that the zoological society agreed to terms of the plea.


Mani, well-known to area schoolchildren because of his frequent classroom visits, was stolen on Oct. 6, 2005. He was recovered in late November, two pounds lighter than when he was taken.


The hawk was found dead of apparent cardiac arrest in his enclosure at the zoo on March 15, 2006.


Coleman broke into Mani’s enclosure at the zoo about 3 a.m. on Oct. 6, and with Loper’s help, took the bird from its cage. Coleman told police the bird was taken a few miles out on West Washington Street and set loose.


A set of leather straps on Mani’s legs was cut off before he was released, police said.


Magnuson said Friday that Coleman and Loper had “misguided intentions” when they took the bird to release it.


Mani had been hand-raised from birth and hadn’t developed the hunting skills or stamina to survive for long in the wild, zoo officials said at the time.


A couple that lives on Palomino Road spotted the hawk in their back yard on Nov. 23, 2005, and through authorities contacted zoo director Talon Thornton.


Assistant zoo director Jackie Peeler put on borrowed gardening gloves and plucked Mani from a tree while he was asleep.


Mani was 27 and weighed about four pounds when he died, having regained most of the weight he lost while not in captivity.


He had lived at the zoo since shortly after his birth, when he was confiscated from a private party by the state Department of Natural Resources. He surpassed the life expectancy of most captive red-tailed hawks by at least 10 years. In the wild, the birds are lucky to make it past the first year, Thornton said previously.


The 2005 incident was Mani’s second time as a kidnap victim. In 1998, someone broke into the zoo facility, took Mani and tried to sell him.


That thief was sentenced to nine months in federal prison.


Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510 or chris.dettro@sj-r.com.