Many people see zoos as fun places to take the family and observe different animals in their “natural habitat.” Many others regard zoos as keeping animals out of their natural environment and depriving them of physical and mental stimulation.
The differing views make for interesting debates; on one hand, pro-zoo campaigners say they’re protecting species that would otherwise die in the wild. But the anti-zoo movement claims zoos are only out to make a profit.
The debate rages on, and the action of some zoos doesn’t help their cause. Like the Longleat Safari Park in England, which came under fire for putting six of its lions to death.
Their crime? They were pregnant and the zoo didn’t want an increase in population.
In spite of all this, animals continue to amaze us with their extraordinary intellect; chimps have a photographic memory while sniffer dogs can detect cancer where doctors fail. Chimp and human DNA structure overlaps by 99%; little wonder they baffle us with some of their antics.
Thanks to scientists like Jane Goodall, we know chimpanzees fashion tools to root for their dinner. But they are even smarter than that. Chimps have been known to engineer escapes from their zoo enclosures on countless occasions. They even escape in groups like the seven that did in April 2014 from the Kansas City Zoo.
While human error is often blamed, it’s often down to the animals being more resourceful than we give them credit for. Here are 12 times animals got loose and hit the highway!
12. Berani the Orangutan
This Sumatran orangutan displayed a high level of intelligence to get out of his enclosure at the New Orleans Audubon Zoo. In September 2009, Berani broke out for 10 minutes to wander around the park.
Using a t-shirt that had been thrown into the enclosure for the monkeys to play with, Berani stretched the t-shirt and fashioned a crude rope. Swinging it till it wrapped around the live wires at the top of the enclosure, he used sheer strength and climbed over the wire and onto the boardwalk above.
Ambling around for 10 minutes, he soon jumped back into the cage.
11. Juan the Andean spectacled Bear
Bears are feared for their sheer strength and those claws and teeth. But these beasts are also pretty smart. In 2004, Juan decided to make a run from his cage at the Berlin Zoo. Hopping on a log, he sailed across the moat which was designed to keep the bears in the enclosure, and scaled a wall to get free.
Wandering across the park, he hopped on the merry-go-round then went up and down the slide for a bit. Paying no mind to the terrified park goers, he wandered around a little more. To distract him, zookeepers put a bicycle in his path. As Juan stopped to examine this mode of transportation, he was shot with a tranquilizer and returned to his pen.
10. The Bronx Zoo Cobra
In March 2011, a 20 inch Egyptian Cobra escaped from its enclosure from the Bronx Zoo.
Noted for their deadly venom – one bite from this cobra will shut down the human respiratory system if left untreated – and love of dark places, the cobra quickly triggered a city wide hunt. She also garnered fame outside the zoo, with mentions by Jimmy Kimmel and a bunch of parody accounts on Twitter.
She managed to elude the daily sweeps carried out by the zookeepers for six days before being found in a corner of the Reptile House. Talk about hidden in plain sight.
9. The Tokyo Bay Penguin
In February 2012, a one year-old Humboldt penguin from the Tokyo Sea Life Park escaped from the park to try the local cuisine. Scaling a 13-foot high wall, it tunneled through a barbed wire fence and dove into the nearby Tokyo Bay.
For the next three months, the penguin was content to spend its days paddling and feeding on the small fish in the bay, while dodging the marine traffic around Tokyo. However, it was caught and returned to the Park in May.
8. The Nandankanan Zoo Tiger
In 2013, keepers at Nandankanan Zoo in India found they had “acquired” a male Bengal tiger. Apparently, he had sauntered into the zoo to visit the resident female tiger. Instead of freeing the tiger, the zoo opened the female enclosure and let him in.
He stayed for about a month, enjoying the free food and lazy afternoons in the sun. He soon got bored and did the unexpected. Leaping up, he scaled a vertical 2o foot security wall, stopping to cut through the wire fencing on his way out.
According to a zoo warden, “…the tiger apparently climbed the walls using the angle irons fitted at 8 feet and 16 feet height intervals to support the structure.” Talk about cat skills!
7. Satara the Rhino
You wouldn’t want to be caught on the wrong end of a charging rhino, would you?
Wardens at the Monarto Zoo in Australia had to do just that to calm a “jealous” two-ton rhino. An 18 year old white male rhino, Satara “grew terribly jealous” when his mate was paired with a younger male. This drove the rhino to the uncharacteristic behavior – he’d been at the park for six years without incident – of knocking down fences in a rage.
He managed to escape his enclosure and wandered around (presumably) to cool off. He returned to his pen later the next day.
Don’t be fooled by their frail looking appearance, these majestic birds are much hardier than they look. Flamingos in captivity only stay in captivity for one reason: their wings are clipped. Once a zoo keeper forgets to clip their wings, they are off like a rocket. Described as being bomb-proof, they have been found to survive in almost any conditions.
One such specimen left the Tracy Aviary, in Utah, and settled nearby on the Shores of the salt Flats, becoming a local legend. Another flew away from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. Eight years later, it was spotted 650 miles from the zoo, with a partner in tow.
5. Reggie the Alligator
Alligators are often defined by their sharp teeth and beady eyes, but an impressive brain lies under that scaly skull. Just look at Reggie who was given up by his first owners. By given up, they released him into a lake in LA in 2005. The city of LA wasn’t too keen on having a six foot gator surfing the waterways, so they hired zookeepers and professionals to snag Reggie.
Two years and $180,000 later, Reggie had managed to elude them. When he was finally caught, he was hauled off to the LA Zoo. Not long after his debut as a zoo gator, Reggie scaled a five foot wall to escape again. Luckily he didn’t get far before he was caught.
4. Evelyn and Jim, the Gorillas
These gorillas had a thing for breaking out of their enclosure. Whether it’s by hopping on other gorillas shoulders to be able to reach the tops of the walls, using vines to swing across 12 foot wide moats or ripping doors off hinges and squeezing through, these gorillas show resourcefulness and smarts.
They escaped so much that the zoo received a warning from the federal officials. The zoo blames it on improper housing conditions which they can’t afford to upgrade. With 35 escaped animals in five years, the zoo needs some help.
3. Tatiana the Tiger
The Siberian tiger is one of the largest species of cats. In the wild, full grown bears have been observed changing their regular paths when they come across tiger trails. They even “control” the population of wolves in their immediate habitat.
When Tatiana, a four-year-old Siberian tiger, escaped from her enclosure in 2007, there was cause for alarm. Leaping to the top of the wall, she clawed her way out and attacked three zoo patrons, killing one and injuring two others. The police were called and she had to be put down. Investigations found that the walls of the enclosure were four feet too low for a cat of Tatiana’s size.
2. Muskingum County Animal Farm Massacre
The Zanesville incident of 2011 brought the cruel reality of exotic pet owners to public light. Due to Ohio’s lenient laws regarding keeping exotic animals, Terry Thompson had built up an impressive private zoo.
On October 18, 2011, he opened the gates, cut the fences and set free his vast menagerie of animals before committing suicide. Reports say he was depressed from his wife leaving him, his mounting debt and having just finished jail time for a gun felony. We’re talking tigers, black bears, African lions, wolves, baboons and cougars. They were all released into the woods of Zanesville.
The situation became a big-game hunt for the local policemen as all the animals had to be put down.
1. Tbilisi Zoo
On June 14, 2015, heavy rainfall caused the Vere stream to overflow and flood the city of Tbilisi, Georgia. It was discovered that the entire animal population in the city zoo had either been drowned in flooded enclosures or had been swept out and into the town.
Hippos, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, jackals and jaguars were all spread out into the streets of the city. A massive round up was undertaken, with many of the animals being put down. Till date, they still haven’t all been accounted for.
Some of these escapes seem almost hard to believe. They’re just “dumb” animals, right? Well, what about Rocky the orangutan who broke out of his primary enclosure and went on a “tour” of the unopened Indianapolis Zoo’s new $26 million International Orangutan Center?
He was only found when zookeepers traced a dismantled webcam in the enclosure. Planet of the Apes, anyone?