[monkeywire] Zoo employee injured in gorilla escape + video

Josh Greenman josh.greenman at gmail.com
Fri Jun 12 15:55:28 EDT 2009


Zoo employee injured in gorilla escape + video

By Joey Holleman - The State

A gorilla escaped at Riverbanks Zoo this morning and injured an
employee before returning to his enclosure, zoo spokeswoman Lindsay
Burke said.

Mike, the gorilla that escaped, was out of his exhibit for about five
minutes around 9:25 a.m., the zoo said. He returned on his own,
joining the other two gorillas in the enclosure.

One food service employee was injured, but no details were provided on
that incident or on the severity of the injuries.

Officials continue to investigate to determine what happened. Another
briefing to the media is planned for later today.

The zoo was placed on lockdown for around 45 minutes when the gorilla
escaped. Everyone in the zoo at the time was taken into buildings or
outside the zoo.

Riverbanks is open and has been deemed safe. It was packed with people
at noon, and the gorilla exhibit has reopened.

Zoo workers waited until all the gorillas were back in the barn - the
building containing the interior viewing area - before reopening to
ensure the gorillas were contained. Mike returned to the barn on his
own, and Kimya returned quickly as well. But Chaka stayed in the
outdoor exhibit for about 45 minutes before coming inside, Burke said.

People waiting outside got the barest of details from zoo employees at
the ticket window. Some learned more during cell phone conversations
with friends who read about the incident on news Web sites.

“We were waiting outside, not realizing what had happened,” said
Tomiko Lloyd, who was one of three adults with a large group of
youngsters from All God’s Children Day Care Center in Hopkins.
“Someone called the bus driver and told him what was going on. As soon
as I heard it was a gorilla loose, I rounded up the kids and put ‘em
back on the bus.”

But Lloyd didn’t hesitate when zoo officials reopened the entrance
gate. All of the people waiting outside at that time were allowed to
enter for free. “That was a nice gesture,” Lloyd said.

After the gorillas were safely in the barn, zoo personnel scoured the
exhibit trying to determine how Mike got out.

Before the Gorilla Base Camp opened in 2001, Riverbanks hired expert
rock climbers and asked them to try to climb out of the exhibit. The
route out of barn has three steel doors with multiple locks on each.
There are nearly 50 locks on the various doors in the barn, which has
a multilevel cage system to allow keepers to separate the gorillas.

Several years ago, one of the original group of gorillas at Riverbanks
got past the first of the three entry doors at the barn when a keeper
left it unlocked. But it was lured back behind the door before it
could do any harm. The keeper was fired.

The zoo has a thick safety manual and strict guidelines on dealing
with each species. Each keeper also is equipped with pepper spray and
a radio. On the rare instance when a call goes out about the most
serious of emergencies — a Code E for dangerous animal escape —
Riverbanks has nearly a dozen staffers with SLED training and access
to rifles.

Other than the two gorilla incidents, the most dangerous escape in
Riverbanks history involved a polar bear in 1974. The bear got out of
its exhibit just before opening time and was shot with a tranquilizer
dart, according to executive director Satch Krantz.

Again, human error was to blame. The polar bears were having trouble
climbing out of the moat, and a ramp was lowered into the moat at the
end of each day to help them climb back up the inside of the moat into
their exhibit. One night the ramp wasn't stored correctly, and a bear
somehow used it to climb up the outside of the moat. He went
exploring, but nobody was hurt.

There have been other escapes — by siamangs, lemurs, bongos and plenty
of birds. But while the zoo credo says anything with a mouth is
dangerous, none of those instances involved the Code E animals —
tigers, lions, bears, hyenas, gorillas, elephants, alligators,
crocodiles and venomous snakes.

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