A code red was issued at Kansas City Zoo last week after 7 chimpanzees busted out of their pen. Despite regular security inspections, the chimpanzees managed to blindside staff when they used a tree branch to scale the walls of their enclosure. Kansas City Zoo says they run inspections every morning to ensure there is nothing within the chimps’ reach that could be a potential tool for escape, but staff overlooked a large piece of a tree that had fallen into the pen earlier.
A spokesperson for the zoo blamed the covert operation on one clever chimpanzee, saying he escaped first, coaxing the other six chimps to follow him. The chimps busted out of their pen using a six-foot tree branch, which the ringleader of the operation broke off from part of the tree that had fallen into the enclosure. President Matt Schindler of WDM Architects, which specializes in zoo exhibit design, believes chimps had been hatching the plan for a while. Schindler told reporters that the “chimps were planning this for a long time,” and went on to say that primates in captivity with nothing but time on their hands can “do a lot of thinking and figure out ways to get out of things.” He cited opposable thumbs as one more factor that contributed to an easy escape, saying that primates have the advantage of being able to make and use tools.
Animal escapes happen about five times a year, and a spokesperson for the zoo stated most escapes occur because of staff error. The chimpanzee escape is not the first time animals have busted out of their pens at the Kansas City Zoo. In 2012, two nineteen-year-old gorillas escaped when the door to their habitat was left unlocked. Zookeepers that were in close proximity to animals could have been seriously injured, but the two gorillas spotted two female gorillas and began performing for them, giving zoo staff time to reach safety. Employees of the Kansas City Zoo used water hoses to force the gorillas back into their cages.
Commenting on the latest chimp hijinks, Zoo Director Randy Wistoff told reporters that seven of chimpanzees in the enclosure scaled the large tree limb to the top of the perimeter wall, and a couple of them made it over to the other side. The chimpanzees never made it out of the zoo, or even past the exhibit area. The Kansas City Zoo staff responded quickly, issuing a code red at 4pm. Guests of the Kansas City Zoo spent an hour in lockdown while staff lured the chimpanzees back into their cage with fruit and greens, and within an hour and a half the chimpanzees were back in their cages. Most of the chimps were easily lured back to their enclosures with carrots and celery, but one reluctant chimp had to be coaxed back with malted milk balls.
The Kansas City Police Department remarked on the dangers of wild animal escapes, sharing a video of a chimpanzee that had busted out of her pen on a previous occasion. The video from 2010, features a 300-pound chimpanzee attacking a police car.
Commentary by Sandra