Escaped Zoo AnimalsUnforgettable Zoo Escapes: When Animals Break Free

Zoos have changed a lot in the last century. More recently, many have turned their attention to savinganimal rehabilitation and education about wild ecosystems.

But regardless of the intent to keep wildlife behind bars, some animals seem to think they’d be better off freed from their traps. Some of these zoo escapes have captured the public’s imagination, while others are downright scary. Here are some of the stranger escapades at the zoo over the past century.

1. Escaped monkeys

A rhesus macaque monkey poses for a photo. (Credit: Md. Tareq Aziz Touhid/Wikimedia Commons)

In 1935, more than a hundred rhesus macaques escaped from an enclosure on Long Island in New York state by crossing a moat through a board left by a keeper. Macaques ran amok in the surrounding area, climbing houses and blocking train tracks, according to a news article in Evening fast. Although some of the macaques returned to their enclosures voluntarily and others were captured, it is unclear whether all have returned.

Read more: How alike humans and apes are

2. An entire pride of lions

A pair of lions at Taronga Zoo in 2020 (Credit: Maxim Kozlenko/Wikimedia Commons)

What can go wrong during a sleepover to a pride of lions? In November 2022, Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia held its Roar and Snort program where guests spent overnight camping at the zoo. All was going well until early one morning a male and four cubs broke through the fence and escaped from their enclosure.

Fortunately, the guests were brought to safety, and the fugitives were still behind another fence that separated them from the people. One cub had to be tranquilized first, but the others returned to their enclosure with a little encouragement from zookeepers. The entire escape only lasted a few hours, but guests who paid hundreds of dollars for the Roar and Snore experience got a little more than they might have bargained for.

3. Serial orangutan escapee

Bornean orangutan in the wild. (Credit: Marketa Miskova/Shutterstock)

A Bornean orangutan named Ken Allen may have been born at the San Diego Zoo, but life in captivity just isn’t for him. Even as a teenager, Ken – nicknamed “Hairy Houdini” – sometimes got away with unscrewing the bolts of his cage. He even covered his tracks by closing the cage in the morning before anyone saw he had been out, According to Newsweek.

As an adult, Ken made a famous series of three famous escapes in 1985. He broke out of his enclosure and went to see the other animals at the San Diego Zoo before being recaptured. He then escaped twice more in the following months and again a few years later.

4. Gorilla tactics

Portrait of a western lowland gorilla at the Los Angeles Zoo. (Credit: Gerry Matthews/Shutterstock)

Ken Allen wasn’t the only primate escape artist in California. Evelyn, a western lowland gorilla who died in December at the age of 46, earned the distinction of having performed several prison escapes from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. In 1986, Evelyn used teamwork to escape by jumping on the back of one of her co-conspirators to jump over a 12-foot wallAccording to Associated Press.

When the zookeepers raised part of the wall in response, Evelyn found a weak spot elsewhere, using the same male gorilla to overcome it. And these weren’t even Evelyn’s first forays out of her enclosure – she had previously scaled a wall using handholds left behind during renovations.

5. Cobra on the run

Egyptian cobra in South Africa. (Credit: Stu Porter/Shutterstock)

In 2011, an Egyptian cobra spent almost a week inside the lamb after escaping from keepers at the Bronx Zoo. The zoo closed its “World of Reptiles” exhibit as a precaution, and the venomous cobra appeared six days later not far from his enclosure. The snake gained a significant following during his escape through a tribute Twitter accountwhere someone keeps typing like the cobra.

Read more: Why do snakes eat themselves?

6. Flamingos on the loose

A pair of greater flamingos preening their feathers in France. (Credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock)

Most of the animals on this list were eventually recaptured. The same cannot be said for flamingos 492 and 347 at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. The two larger flamingos escaped in 2005 by catching a passing breeze while waiting to have their feathers trimmed. They spent several days taunting the zookeepers in a nearby swamp drainage area until a thunderstorm sent them further afield.

Flamingo 347 reached Minnesota, then disappeared, According to CNN. Meanwhile, Flamingo 492, a native of Tanzania, headed for the Gulf of Mexico. Against all odds, the bird dubbed by some “Pink Floyd” survived there for at least 17 years — it was the last captured again by camera in 2022.

7. The fugitive sea lion

A sea lion sitting in its enclosure. (Credit: Patrick Rowlands/Shutterstock)

Cyril the sea lion was renamed Slippery for good reason. After escaping from its enclosure at Storybook Gardens in London, Ontario in 1958, it made its way down the Thames River to Lake St. Clair. At some point, the sea lion managed to jump across the country, crossing the international border with the US as it made its way down the Detroit River and into Lake Erie.

It took a zookeeper in Toledo, Ohio 10 days to capture Slippery. The marine mammal was repatriated to Canada with much fanfare in the back of a station wagon, according to CBC News. It has since been immortalized by a statue in Storybook Gardens.

8. Rusty the Red Panda

Red panda in the wild. (Credit: Matthias Appel/Shutterstock)

Rusty the red panda is a relatively recent escapee to the list. Zookeepers first noticed Rusty missing from the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington, DC early one morning in june 2013. A massive search campaign began—both physical and virtual through social media—and soon cameos of Rusty began appearing in the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Fortunately, the red panda was found later that day. Until Rusty died in 2022, his escape was remarkable as he was not even a year old when he staged his escape in the US capital.

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