7 Crafty Zoo Escapes

Getty Images
Getty Images

Nothing beats a good day at the zoo, especially in the fall when cooler temperatures make the animals more active. But you never know when one of the inhabitants might make a break for it. Think it's impossible? Check out these examples of crafty animal escapes:

1. No Cage Can Hold Fu Manchu

You may be impressed by escape artists like David Blaine, but orangutan Fu Manchu scoffed at such escapades. (Or he would have if orangutans could scoff.) Fu Manchu made his first jailbreak from the Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo in 1968; his keepers assumed someone had accidentally left the door to his cage open. They coaxed Fu Manchu and his family back into their habitat, and everything seemed normal. Or at least it did until Fu Manchu escaped again. And again. After the third breakout, Fu Manchu's handlers started keeping a closer eye on him. Eventually, one of them noticed something shiny in the orangutan's mouth. It turned out to be a piece of wire that Fu Manchu had shaped to fit in between his lip and gums; it was also the lock pick that he used to make his daring escapes. His cage was stripped of all wires, and Fu Manchu's brief stints on the lam came to a close.

2. Juan the Andean Goes Bike Shopping

Anyone who's watched a jailbreak movie knows that you won't get far without stealing a set of wheels. Even Juan knew that, and he was a bear. Juan, an Andean spectacled bear, made a daring escape from the Berlin Zoo in 2004. He rode a log across a moat designed to keep bears in their habitats, and then scaled a wall to gain his freedom. His first stop? The zoo's playground, where he terrified parents, rode the merry-go-round, and went down the slide. After a few minutes of play, though, he started to wander around again. Zookeepers needed a way to distract Juan, so they set a bicycle in his path. As Juan inspected the bike "“ possibly to see if it was a worthy vehicle for his ride to freedom "“ his handlers nailed him with a tranquilizer dart and carried the sleeping 300-pound bear back to his habitat.

3. Roaming Buffalo

Where do the buffalo roam? Pretty much wherever they feel like roaming. They can weigh over a ton, so when they set their sights on an escape, it's tough to stop them. As a result, bison escapes are more common than you might think. Seventeen bison were accidentally released from a ranch in Ulysses, NY, this July, and it took workers over a month to recover 12 of them while others kept wandering around the area. Four escaped from an Illinois farm in August and blocked Interstate 55; their owners eventually had to shoot them to keep traffic moving. Sadly, this fate is all too common for escaped bison; a 2006 breakout of five bison in Colorado Springs ended with the police having to shoot the animals.

However, not all bison breakaways have sad endings. Nine bison escaped from the Oakland Zoo despite being held behind a pair of gates, at which point they wandered off and enjoyed a nice snack of poison oak. Zookeepers tried to lure the bison back to the zoo using hay, but to no avail. Eventually, though, they found the right bait: a trail of Wonder Bread. The bison followed the white bread road and made it home safely.

4. Reggie Eludes Capture, Keepers

Reggie the alligator has had a fairly odd life. His first home was in the backyard pool of his original owners. Eventually, though, these owners realized that a 6-foot gator probably wasn't the smartest thing to keep around, so they did what any reasonable, considerate human beings would do: they dumped Reggie in an urban lake in Los Angeles in 2005. At that point, Reggie became the city's problem, and L.A. endeavored to capture the reptile before he could cause any mischief.

Unfortunately for the city officials, Reggie wasn't so keen on being caught. Despite their best efforts, animal-control officers couldn't nab the gator; even calling in professional "gator wranglers" didn't help. Two years and $180,000 in expenses later, Reggie finally let his guard down long enough for officers to capture him. Since he was something of a local celebrity by this point, the L.A. Zoo took Reggie in. Apparently Reggie wasn't too pleased with this situation, either. Just days after his public debut as a zoo gator, he scaled a five-foot wall to escape his habitat. Workers found him lounging on a loading dock before the zoo opened the next morning.

5. Chucky Goes on the Lam

Reggie isn't the only gator to make a notable escape. When Hurricane Ivan threatened Gulf Shores' Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in 2004, zookeepers evacuated as many of the resident animals as they could. Unfortunately, they couldn't take their alligators with them. The hurricane's storm surge then destroyed the gators' habitat and allowed them to escape. Although a handful of gators escaped, Chucky got all the publicity due to his size; he was 12 feet long and weighed half a ton. Zoo officials worried that since Chucky had been fed by friendly humans for 14 years, he wouldn't hesitate to approach people and potentially eat them. Chucky remained at large for five days until he was finally captured by the Alligator Retrieval Team from Orlando, Florida's Gatorland.

6. Gorilla, Police Get Locked in Standoff

Jabari, a 300-pound gorilla, escaped from his enclosure at the Dallas Zoo in 2004, and he did a bit more than harmlessly scrounge for bananas. Instead, he unleashed a Donkey Kong"“like wrath on the zoo's patrons. Jabari attacked a mother and her three-year-old son, and at one point put the toddler in his mouth. Both mother and child suffered bite wounds, and another woman received arm injuries. As zoo patrons hid in nearby buildings and a monorail, zookeepers tried to track down Jabari to tranquilize the angry gorilla. The clever gorilla slipped into a simulated jungle habitat, though, and the handlers couldn't get a clear shot. Eventually two police officers located Jabari, but the gorilla charged them. Unfortunately, they had no choice but to shoot the animal.

7. Beware Packs of Elephants

The Seoul Children's Grand Park had a daily parade of elephants outside of their habitat in 2005. Everything was delightful until the day when one of the elephants became startled and ran off. When the first elephant took off, five more followed. They stampeded into the garden of a nearby home, and while handlers tried to corral them, three elephants took off and stormed into a restaurant. One elephant clipped a woman with its trunk as it charged down an alley near an elementary school. After scaring their fair share of Seoul's residents, the elephants eventually submitted to corralling and returned to their enclosure.

See also...

6 Utterly Loyal Dogs
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4 Big Paychecks for Very Little Work
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5 Deadly Animals That Might Just Save Your Life
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10 Coins That Aren't Boring
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5 Drinking Stories That Put Yours to Sham

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

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Instant Pot/Amazon

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HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

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Roomba/Amazon

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Video games

Sony

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Microsoft/Amazon

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Apple/Amazon

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Watch: In 1948, Idaho Officials Sent 76 Beavers Parachuting Into Idaho’s Wilderness

A young beaver with all four feet firmly on the ground.
A young beaver with all four feet firmly on the ground.
yrjö jyske, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When people started building up the area around Idaho’s Payette Lake after World War II, its original residents began interfering with irrigation and agricultural endeavors. They weren’t exactly staging an organized protest—they were just beavers doing what beavers do.

Nevertheless, officials at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game decided their best bet was to find a new home for the long-toothed locals. The surrounding wilderness provided plenty of options, but transportation was another issue entirely. Traversing the undeveloped, mountainous terrain would require both trucks and pack animals, and experts knew from past relocation efforts that beavers weren’t fond of either.

“Beavers cannot stand the direct heat of the sun unless they are in water,” department employee Elmo W. Heter explained in a 1950 report [PDF]. “Sometimes they refuse to eat. Older individuals often become dangerously belligerent ... Horses and mules become spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, malodorous pair of live beavers.”

To keep Payette Lake’s beavers healthy and happy during the journey, their human handlers would need to find another method of travel. As Boise State Public Radio reports, that’s when Heter suggested making use of their leftover WWII parachutes.

Two beavers would sit inside a wooden box attached to a parachute, which could be dropped from an airplane between 500 and 800 feet above their new home in the Chamberlain Basin. The cables that fastened the box to the parachute would keep it shut during the flight, but they’d slacken enough for the beavers to open the box upon landing. After testing the operation with weights, Heter and his colleagues enlisted an older beaver named Geronimo for a few live trials.

“Poor fellow!” Heter wrote. “You may be sure that ‘Geronimo’ had a priority reservation on the first ship into the hinterland, and that three young females went with him.”

Once Geronimo had certified the safety of the mission, the team began migrating the whole beaver population. During the fall of 1948, a total of 76 beavers touched down in their new territory. It wasn’t without tragedy, though; one beaver fell to his death after a cable broke on his box. Overall, however, the venture was deemed much safer (and less expensive) than any trip on foot would have been. And when department officials checked in on the beavers a year later, they had already started improving their ecosystem.

“Beavers had built dams, constructed houses, stored up food, and were well on their way to producing colonies,” Heter wrote. As Idaho Fish and Game’s Steve Liebenthal told Boise State Public Radio, the area is now part of “the largest protected roadless forest” in the continental U.S.

You can watch the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s full 14-minute documentary about the process below.

[h/t Boise State Public Radio]