[monkeywire] Great escape has silver lining for gorilla, zoo

Josh Greenman joshg1973 at yahoo.com
Mon Dec 1 17:27:07 EST 2003


Great escape has silver lining for gorilla, zoo

Little Joe has earned fans and notoriety for the Franklin Park Zoo with his wild romps in

By Ron DePasquale
Special to the Tribune

November 28, 2003

BOSTON -- One day, a 300-pound teenage gorilla decided he wanted to leave home for a
while. So, in a chest-beating fury, he left.

Officials think Little Joe scaled an electrified wall and jumped across a 12-foot moat.
His journey left behind a terrified zoo volunteer, an injured 2-year-old girl, a rattled
neighborhood and a big security problem for the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.

The volunteer and the child escaped an attack by Little Joe with some minor scrapes and
bruises, but the ape led police and animal-control authorities on a two-hour chase,
absorbing a few tranquilizer darts before finally going down.

The great escape two months ago was Little Joe's second, coming after a trip around the
zoo's forestry exhibit and a voluntary return to his cell in August.

In an eerie twist, the gorilla chose to flee on Sept. 28, the same day a local newspaper
ran a feature about him and his earlier escape. The coincidence left some Bostonians to
wonder whether he took the paper's map of the zoo with him.

Reprieve for Little Joe

Little Joe looks as if he could get one more chance to stay in Boston.

Franklin Park Zoo announced recently that it is examining whether the hairy escape artist
could again be put on display. This comes after zoo officials and local columnists have
emphasized that Little Joe should not be punished for escaping, and neighborhood
residents have rallied to support the zoo at a town hall-style meeting.

"I would love to be able to get him back on exhibit," said John Linehan, chief executive
of Zoo New England, the non-profit agency that runs the tourist attraction. "In reality,
working on the things we need to do to ensure he can't get out again may take longer than
we can keep him [held internally]."

The zoo had been considering moving Little Joe because it already had identified one
alpha male gorilla, which usually dominates the group.

Even if Little Joe had seriously hurt someone, he could not be blamed for acting like an
animal, Linehan said. It's clear the gorilla meant no harm, which it could have easily
done, he said.

"When I arrived, he was certainly frightened," he said. "As a young male, he had shown
some bravado, beating his chest, but when I got there, he was hiding in the trees,
looking at all the action. It must have been an overwhelming sight for an animal who's
never seen anything before."

Bill and Denise Nicholas, who were visiting the zoo on a recent afternoon, said they
hoped Little Joe could return without having to be medicated, which the zoo had not done

"They absolutely should put him back on display if they can do it in a humane way," said
Bill Nicholas. "But if they can't do it with any dignity, they shouldn't bring him back."

There is "absolutely" no chance that Little Joe will be medicated with anti-depressants,
Linehan said, blaming the media for spreading misinformation about the use of such drugs.
Euthanasia is also "just not going to happen," he said.

The Nicholases said they hope the other five gorillas are put back on display soon so the
family will get to do more than view a video about the animals.

"It's unfair punishing the other gorillas," Denise Nicholas said. "Little Joe is such an

An aberration--a skinny but incredibly strong teenager--is exactly how zoo officials
described Little Joe. The animal combines physical prowess with a high intelligence,
Linehan said, making Little Joe a rare specimen.

"He's going to be a huge gorilla when he's all grown up," Linehan said. "He's also very
self-confident, very intelligent. He studies things, you can see his brain is just always
going. He's from a number of perspectives just an unusual animal."

Zoo put in spotlight

Little Joe's wild run has brought intense scrutiny to the 72-acre zoo, which drew 290,000
visitors. Changes will be made after an internal investigation and those revisions will
be examined by the Massachusetts State Police and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The zoo's accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association is up for review in
the spring, and a loss of that stamp of approval would be a major embarrassment. That
already happened to the New England Aquarium, which is battling a severe lack of funds.

Zoo supporters hope that Little Joe has done the struggling zoo a favor by drawing
attention to one of Boston's least-known tourist destinations, which is fighting for
donations and government support.

"There's all kinds of potential silver [linings]" Linehan said. "For years, people didn't
even know we had a zoo in Boston."

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune 

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