Zoo chimp drowns in escape attempt

June 9, 2010

A chimpanzee has drowned during an attempt to escape from Veszprém Zoo in Hungary, pestiside.hu reports.

Ghafula, an 11 year old female, had recently been transferred to the Hungarian facility from her previous quarters in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands.

The chimpanzee failed to settle in her new home, and, in a bid for freedom, attempted to ford the eight metre moat surrounding her enclosure. She was soon out of her depth, and foundered. Keepers rushed to her aid but were unable to resuscitate her.

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Benin police shoot escaped chimp

June 2, 2010

Police in Benin have shot and killed a chimpanzee that escaped from a zoo in the west African nation, Next News reports.

The death of a chimpanzee by the hands of its human neighbours in Africa is not, in itself, particularly newsworthy. But anglophone readers may find additional poignancy in the Next News report; the article is afforded lyrical qualities by the translation:

Residents of Ogba, on the outskirt of Benin City were thrown into panic penultimate week when a chimpanzee allegedly escaped from its cage in the Ogba Zoological garden and attacked some fun seekers at the zoo.

One of the “fun seekers”, Nwoke Chidozie, was forced to intervene when his “last son”, Divine, was attacked by the crazed primate. Chidozie half-nelsoned the hominin into submission, in all likelihood saving his son’s life in the process.

A spokesman for the Benin police, Peter Ogboi, told reporters: “When it became evident that the chimpanzee had became [sic] a threat to others on sight-seeing at the zoo, the best we could do was to ensure that those that have left the cage will have no access to people to injure then [sic]. At that point, what was normal was for the police to ensure that the animal does not exist.”

Thanks to the intervention of Benin City’s finest, the animal does not, anymore, exist.


Kung-fu bear footage ‘may be genuine’

June 1, 2010

Footage of a bear demonstrating extraordinary skill with the quarterstaff may be genuine, according to scientists, The Telegraph reports.

Claude the moon bear, who is currently residing at the pleasure of keepers at Asa Zoo, Hiroshima, is the latest ursine sensation to sweep the Internet nation, following the emergence of amateur footage uploaded to YouTube:

Professor Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado told the Telegraph: “This goes beyond normal animal usage of complex tools but then again you can train seals to balance balls on their noses and train elephants to paint with their trunks, so why not this? I would guess this is the result of extreme training and would find it hard to believe the animal taught itself this spontaneously.”

Bekoff maintains that the bear’s skills are not natural — as if we needed to be told — and were probably developed in response to “extreme boredom”.

But whether Claude’s technique was honed in anticipation of the hand-to-paw combat that is certain to greet his imminent escape attempt, or was conferred upon him by ambient radiation in the traditional style of 1950’s superheroes, remains to be seen.


4,000 lb rhino escapes Jacksonville zoo

May 8, 2010

A monstrous rhinoceros escaped his pen at a zoo in Jacksonville, FL, The Florida Times-Union reports.

Archie the rhinoceros

Look at the size of him!

Keepers attempted to lure Archie back to his enclosure with food, but to no avail. Eventually the prodigious perissodactyl was sedated and hauled back behind bars. At no time were the public in danger, since the brute remained contained behind a second fence.

Rhinoceroses are not, of course, renowned for their cunning or dexterity. Neither were required for Archie to secure his freedom, since (surprise surprise) a keeper had left a gate open.


Ape apologist: apes escape because they can

March 17, 2010

Following Dallas Zoo’s recent embarrassing incident, The Dallas Morning News quizzed Kristen Lukas, who holds the gorilla chair at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

Dr Lukas is evidently an individual of exquisite taste and subtlety, since her answers betray a close reading of these pages. Asked whether gorillas are more likely than other species to spring from confinement, she answered:

I am not aware of any data that would [support that conclusion]. I am aware of a wide range of animals that have breached containment in a zoo, including birds, turtles, snakes, monkeys, carnivores, insects and hoof stock, in addition to apes. You may be aware that 30 chimpanzees escaped a British zoo enclosure last year, for example. I think the evidence to date suggests orangutans [like Pulang and Karta] and are among the most creative escape artists.

When asked to consider what should be done to prevent animal escapes from zoos, Dr Lukas answered:

… things can happen unexpectedly. Equipment can fail, infrastructure can age and human error can lead to opportunities for animals to breach containment. In short: Animals escape because they can.

Read the Q&A in full.

When she is not (allegedly) reading idiotic animal escape blogs in her spare time, Dr Lukas works to understand the behaviour of captive animals — especially primates — with a view to improving their welfare.


Calgary snakes escape down drain

March 9, 2010

A pair of snakes at Calgary zoo slithered their way towards freedom through an open drain, CBC News reports.

The brace of Malagasy giant hognose snakes were returned to confinement following an exhaustive search of 274 metres of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine.

Zoo officials were at pains to point out that the snakes could not have entered the city’s sewer system, nor are they venomous: probably points one and two on the public’s escaped snake panic card.

Having snake-shaped tunnels littered around the vivarium might seem a bit of a blunder on the part of the zoo’s designers, but Cathy Gaviller, Calgary zoo’s director of conservation, education and research, laid the blame squarely at the door of the Human Error department:

“A normal procedure that was put in place seven years ago when we opened the building wasn’t followed,” she frowned.

No prizes for guessing that the “normal procedure”, in this case, involves closing the drain after cleaning it.

The hognosed snakes were closely followed by a hogbodied python that proved too fat to fit through the pipework, stage-whispering “Go on without me; I’ll only slow you down.”

CBC News notes that Calgary zoo has attracted the opprobrium of animal rights activists, who point to the zoo’s dismal record of keeping its inmates alive.

In recent years, the zoo has failed in its duty of care to a baby elephant, a hippo, a suicidal wild goat, four gorillas, more than 40 asphyxiated stingrays, and a solitary capybara that was crushed to death by a hydraulic gate.

Happily, on this occasion, all three snakes lived to escape another day.


Whale kills trainer at SeaWorld Orlando

February 25, 2010

A SeaWorld employee was killed by a captive killer whale yesterday, 24th Febuary, The Orlando Sentinel, The Associated Press, and dozens of others report.

Dawn Brancheau, 40, one of the most experienced trainers on SeaWorld’s books, was addressing guests at the “Dine with Shamu” poolside buffet when tragedy struck.

Initial reports were confused, stating that Brancheau had slipped or fallen into the tank before being attacked by the whale. But eyewitness reports emerged later, indicating the trainer was taken by the whale while she stood at the edge of the tank.

“The trainer was explaining different things about the whale and then the trainer that was down there walked away from the window. Then Tilly [Tilikum – the whale] took off really fast in the tank and he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing [her] around,” Victoria Biniak told WKMG TV.

“He was thrashing her around pretty good. It was violent.”

Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld’s Corporate Curator of Zoological Operations, later confirmed to Reuters: “She was rubbing the killer whale’s head, and [it] grabbed her and pulled her in [to the tank]”.

Brancheau died from “multiple traumatic injuries and drowning” having been pulled underwater by her pony tail, Orlando County Sherrif’s Office told the Orlando Sentinel. “Rescuers were not able to immediately jump in and render assistance” owing to the whale’s “aggressive nature.”

The 30-year-old bull killer whale, Tilikum, is so large and dangerous that SeaWorld Orlando trainers are instructed not to enter the tank with him. Indeed the beast has been implicated in two previous deaths.

Prior to being sold to SeaWorld, Tilikum was held at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia. In February 1991, 20-year-old University of Victoria marine biology student Keltie Byrne was killed by three whales, one of them Tilikum, after she slipped and fell into their tank. SeaWorld purchased Tilikum from the Canadian facility in 1992; shortly thereafter, Sealand closed.

In 1999, the naked body of a man was found draped across Tilikum’s back at SeaWorld Orlando. Daniel Dukes had apparently slipped through security at the amusement park under cover of darkness, stripped, and had either jumped or fallen into the tank. The cause of his death was later found to be hypothermia and drowning, but Dukes’ body showed evidence he had been in the whale’s jaws.

With its sorry history of whale attacks on trainers, SeaWorld has been the subject of intense scrutiny, including mine, and the latest incident has prompted the WDCS, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Orlando Sentinel to renew calls for a moratorium on killer whale captivity.

The behaviour of these captive whales contrasts starkly with that of their wild counterparts, among whom there are no documented attacks on humans.

The contrast is most poignantly illuminated by the case of Luna, a killer whale abandoned by his pod in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The subject of a recent BBC Natural World documentary, Luna looked to humanity for companionship in the absence of his cetacean brethren.

He became totemic in a three-way struggle between the First Nations of British Coumbia, well-meaning Canadians who wished to relieve the loneliness they perceived in him, and conservation workers concerned that human contact would end in tragedy.

In the end, their worst fears were realised when Luna was killed by a tugboat propeller in March 2006.

The question now is whether Tilikum will pay a similarly heavy price for his association with humanity, an association that, unlike Luna’s, is entirely outside his control.

Update: Three options are open to SeaWorld: keep, release, or destroy Tilikum. Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld’s Corporate Curator of Zoological Operations, has ruled out euthanasia. When asked whether SeaWorld should release the killer whale into the wild, Tompkins answered, apparenly without irony: “I think it’s unfair to do that to an animal.”