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.


Tokyo zoo runs tiger escape drill

February 23, 2010

Ueno Zoo in Tokyo has run its biannual animal escape drill, stuff.co.nz reports.

In characteristically unconventional style, the Japanese zookeepers have indulged in a little cosplay; the place of the escaped beast is taken by a furry who roams the zoo and terrorizes human onlookers.

Previous years’ escaped “animals” have been rhinoceroses, zebras, gorillas and polar bears. But this year being toradoshi, Ueno’s marauding mammal has taken the form of the tiger.


Dallas zookeeper disciplined following gorilla escape

February 23, 2010

A keeper at Dallas Zoo has been suspended following the escape of a gorilla, Dallas Morning News and Associated Press report.

A momentary lapse of the unnamed zookeeper’s attention allowed the 180lb beast the freedom of the Gorilla Research Center. The keeper “failed to verify the area was empty before stepping away to gather cleaning equipment,” according to Dallas Zoo Executive Director Gregg Hudson.

Tufani, the 19-year-old great ape, was summarily tranquilized before being carted back to her pen.

Although the massive primate was not afforded the liberty of public areas of the zoo, which was nevertheless closed at the time of her escape, the incident provides an uncomfortable reminder of a previous tragedy at Dallas Zoo.

In 2004, a 14-year-old female gorilla scaled the walls of her encolsure and went on a rampage, leaving three people injured before she was mown down in a hail of police bullets.

AP reports that security measures were “beefed up” following the 2004 incident, but the changes appear to be no remedy for human absent-mindedness.


Lions slay white tiger at Czech zoo

November 23, 2009

Two lions burgled the enclosure of a rare white tiger at a zoo in the Czech Republic, killing the occupant, BBC News reports.

The big cat blue-on-blue is attributed to the zoo’s peculiar cage rotation policy. Lions and tigers share nocturnal accommodation in the same “pavilion”, and are released into separate open-air enclosures at daybreak.

But for reasons that are not at all clear, the external habitats are assigned to different species on a rota system.

The friendly-fang incident took place when the two lions — Sultan and Elsa — prised open a trap door leading to their previous accommodation, perhaps in an attempt to reclaim their old territory, and surprised Isabella, the new occupant.

Staff rushed to respond to the tigress’ cries for help, but in vain.

Head-scratching zoo director David Nejedlo told the BBC: “The current security system has been in place for 12 years and such an accident has never happened before.”


Another Aussie orangutan briefly escapes

July 13, 2009

An orangutan at Perth Zoo savoured the sweet taste of freedom for five fleeting minutes before voluntarily returning to her enclosure, WAToday reports.

The escape is remarkably similar to that of Karta, who defeated the electric fence at her Adelaide Zoo enclosure in May, only to give herself up minutes later.

Perth’s pongid Houdini is named Pulang, which, appropriately enough, means “come home” in Malay.

Once again, where humans design new enclosures for apes, hubris swiftly follows: WAToday reports Pulang’s new home was “state of the art”, and designed to “mimic the Sumatran jungle”. Its shortcomings were sufficiently obvious to the fifteen-year-old primate that she immediately loosened a rope from a fixing bolt and swung her way to freedom.

As is now traditional, a largely pointless “security review” has been ordered by zoo top brass. Chief executive Susan Hunt noted that “orangutans are [one] of the world’s most intelligent, inquisitive and agile creatures … capable of picking locks and undoing bolts and screws.


Monkeys loose aboot this hoose

July 7, 2009

Several monkeys escaped the clutches of Edinburgh Zoo on Friday, and five remain at large, Scottish independent broadcaster STV reports.

Auld Reekie zookeepers are even now trying to tempt the Barbary macaques, recently arrived from a zoo in Germany, down from the trees with bananas, nuts and seeds.

Edinburgh zoo committed the schoolboy error of trying to move primates between enclosures when the macaques discovered a “chink in the armour” of their new pen, according to BBC Scotland.

Head zookeeper Lorna Hughes said: “We moved our 12 barbary macaques to a new enclosure within the zoo and, being inquisitive animals, they decided to explore their enclosure and found a certain little weakness where they could climb up a certain part of the wall and make their way under the electric fence at the top.”

The escaped macaques are more commonly known as “Barbary Apes”, famous for infesting the rock of Gibraltar. Additional pub quiz trivia: despite their common name, they are not, in fact apes, and they are the only extant European non-human primate.

Rumours that a smouldering American macaque stole a Triumph TR6 Trophy and attempted to vault the barbed wire before being brutally slain by keepers remain unconfirmed.


Chimpanzee army storms zoo foodstore

July 7, 2009

A thirty-strong platoon of chimpanzees escaped their enclosure at Chester Zoo and sacked the keepers’ food-preparation area, Reuters reports.

The hungry hominins’ escape prompted a precautionary evacuation of the zoo. An unnamed spokeswoman told Reuters: “We had an army of chimps eating their way through the keeper’s kitchen and the decision was taken, quite rightly, to evacuate.

“By around 4 pm we had managed to get all the chimps back in their enclosure, some of them with very full bellies.”

Zoo director general Gordon McGregor Reid told BBCNews: “It was a bit like an old-fashioned chimps tea party… they’ve certainly had a ball in that room that’s for sure.”

An enquiry is underway to understand how the apes made good their escape. The zoo’s blacksmith has been summoned to inspect door latches.

Although the foodstore was pillaged, the chimpanzee raiding party mercifully failed to discover the powder magazine.


Escaped lion shot dead at Australian zoo

March 23, 2009

A lioness escaped from her enclosure at Mogo Zoo in New South Wales, was seen “moving slowly” towards visitors and licking her lips, before being shot dead by keepers, Reuters reports.

What makes this different from a run of the mill lion-escapes-gets-killed story is the volume of hate mail subsequently received by zoo staff. Sally Padey, owner of the zoo, said she had received letters from people angered that Jamelia had been killed, rather than tranquillized and returned to confinement.

“I’ve never had to make that decision ever in my entire life, in a blink of an eye, and I did yesterday and everybody is safe. When you’ve got to make a split decision like I had to yesterday, especially with a lion that’s so very dear to me, it’s not easy,” Padey said.

Tranquillzing the animal was not an option, explained the zoo’s business manager John Appleby. Drugs would have taken about ten minutes to take effect in a lioness of Jamelia’s size.

“If we’d put a tranquilliser dart in her bum, believe me they get a little cranky about it, and then if she went into that public area and took 10 minutes to get put down, there is a huge risk,” Appleby told the Sydney Morning Herald, mixing tense, mood and number like a round of Martinis.