SOUTHEND Sealife Adventure is offering a reward of £1,000 after a man allegedly broke into the centre and damaged the meerkat enclosure leading to their escape.

A man allegedly broke in around 7pm last night and was seen on the roof before causing damage to the meerkats' home.

CCTV footage has since been released by Sealife Adventure.

Luckily, the animals, which are relatively new and were part of the centre's "Wild" refurbishment where animals came over from Tropical Wings, have now been safely recovered.

The meerkats were seen running along together on Southend Seafront shortly after the break-in which caused a bit of a stir.

A spokesman from Sealife Adventure, said: "We need your help to catch this mindless criminal who put our animals in danger, by breaking into Sealife Adventure, destroyed their home, lovingly built to be the best environment for them.

"We would like to say a massive thank you to the members of the Sealife Adventure team, police officers, PCSO and members of the public who made sure that our meerkats returned safe and sound to their home after a mindless criminal put them at risk.

"An idiot decided to break in to 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, who were born and raised at Tropical Wings before making Sealife Adventure their new home, 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 person who committed the act of destroying an enclosure lovingly built to be the best possible home for our meerkats showed complete disregard for the welfare of both our meerkats and the people and guests of Southend.

"We would urge anyone with any information about this crime to come forward, and to this end are offering a reward of £1000 along with a Sealife Adventure and Adventure Island Annual pass as well a chance to meet our meerkats now they are safe home for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for this crime."

A spokesman for Essex Police, said: "We are investigating reports a meerkat enclosure was damaged at Sea Life Adventure in Eastern Esplanade, Southend, at about 7.45pm on Friday, July 12.

"A number of meerkats escaped as a result but were safely rounded up.

"Witnesses who saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area at the time are asked to call the Southend community policing team on 101 quoting reference 42/110687/19."