These animals wanted to break free—and they did, if only for a little while, leading authorities on chases that were thrilling and, sometimes, adorable.
1. A “UNICORN”
Last week, authorities took part in a chase that feels like it would only be possible in fairy tales. A 600-pound Shetland pony named Juliet escaped a Madera Ranchos, California photoshoot, where she was dressed as a unicorn and posing with children, twice. The first escape, which occurred around 2:30 p.m., had the California Highway Patrol officer who took the call scratching his head. “Initially he thought it might be somebody out there on drugs, seeing things,” CHP spokesman Josh McConnell told the Los Angeles Times. “It was a little unreal to hear calls of a unicorn running around on the roadway.” Juliet’s owner, photographer Sandra Boos, was able to capture her quickly, and the photoshoot continued.
Then, around 5:30 p.m., Juliet got loose again—and this time, capturing her wasn’t so easy. Boos told USA Today that the pony “threw up her head,” pulled free of the lead rope, and ran for it. “I was shooting,” Boos said, “but I assume she got free and was like, ‘Oh, well I’m going to run,’ and she took off.”
For the next four hours, CHP tried to catch the horse, using a helicopter and thermal imaging to track her. Eventually, Juliet hid in an orchard; she was only captured when Boos’s friend rode up on a horse named Shady—an animal Juliet was familiar with. The horse whinnied at Juliet, who whinnied back and came out of hiding, following Shady into a pen. After the police declared that “the unicorn is in custody,” Boos received a warning. "I'll continue taking photos with the pony,” Boos told the LA Times. “But we're going to decide exactly what we need to do to make sure we don't have a repeat performance.”
2. TWO LLAMAS
On February 26, 2015, a llama farmer brought three of his animals to GenCare Lifestyle at the Carillons, an assisted living facility in Sun City, Arizona, to visit with residents. The visit, community director Stephanie Schmidt told the Los Angeles Times, “went great. Everyone was really happy. It was wonderful.”
Then, when the animals’ owner was loading the llamas back into his trailer to take them home, something spooked them—and two bolted. What would come to be dubbed "The Great Llama Chase of 2015" had begun.
At first, workers at GenCare and the llamas’ owner tried to catch the animals, but soon realized they needed more help—so they called 911, which sent officers from Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. Soon, helicopters overhead were following the llamas’ every move, and the feed was live-streamed on the Internet. (A third llama also briefly escaped, but was quickly caught.)
For about an hour, work ground to a halt across America as people watched the two llamas—one large and white, one smaller and dark-colored—take a trip through Sun City, evading lassos and dodging cars. It was the Ford Bronco chase of the 21st century—but, you know, with llamas, Twitter hashtags (#llamas, #llamasontheloose, #llamadrama), and memes instead of OJ.
The llamas were separated for a bit, then found each other again. But all good things must come to an end, and eventually, the little llama was captured. The larger llama continued the run alone for another 15 minutes before it, too, was lassoed. The animals were, thankfully, unharmed: Their owner told Schmidt that they were “just tired.”
3. A TORTOISE
When his owners went to a baseball game in August 2014, Clark saw an opportunity. The 150-pound sulcata tortoise escaped from his Alhambra, California home and went for a walk in his neighborhood. But he didn’t make it far. Animal Control employee Ruth Jauregui told the Los Angeles Times that “I think it pushed something out of the way and got out and it went a few houses down,” where someone spotted the tortoise and called police. “The tortoise did try to make a run for it; but, our officers are pretty fast,” the Alhambra Police Department noted on its Facebook page. “Almost had a pursuit! It took two officers to take this guy into custody because it weighs about 150 pounds (and our cuffs ... well not practical in this situation).” Clark, who an expert estimated was 18 or 20 years old, was reunited with his family the next day. Sulcata tortoises can live to be up to 100 years old.
Around 1:15 p.m. on March 26, 2015, Seattle police received a call about a group of kids—the goat kind—chasing another group of kids, this time of the human variety. Around 10 goats had escaped from a yard and were roaming in the streets, according to the Seattle Times, when a passerby called the police. They were able to capture the animals “after a brief hoof chase,” police spokesman Drew Fowler said, and the goats were taken to animal control. They were eventually reunited with their owner, who tweeted, “for the record, they love kids.” The Seattle PD had fun with the incident, modifying the poster for Steve McQueen’s The Great Escape (calling it “The Goat Escape” starring “Steve BaaQueen”) for a post on its blotter.
5. A SHETLAND PONY
Shortly after 2 p.m. on January 24, 2016, Sussex Police were called in to help capture an escaped Shetland Pony. It took four police units 45 minutes to snag the pony, which led them on an epic chase through a housing development, and the whole thing was captured on video. The pony was eventually captured and sent to the RSPCA to be reunited with its owner.
6. AN ANTELOPE
Brownsville, Texas resident Jose Antonio Davila was driving down the street with his wife on February 18, 2015 when he spotted a kudu in the street. The large antelope was “running right in front of our car," Davila told the San Antonio Express-News. The animal, which lived at the city’s Gladys Porter Zoo, was in the process of being transferred when it escaped and led police on a chase through downtown Brownsville, according to the Express-News.
The animal managed to elude capture for several days before it was spotted near the Amigoland Events Center. The zoo brought in a helicopter; a tranquilizer dart was fired at the kudu, which went down around three minutes later and was captured without incident.
The antelope, which had been brought to the zoo from a ranch for mating purposes, was then placed under quarantine for a month. The zoo held a contest to name him—the staff picked five names, and the public settled on “Kudini”—before ultimately returning him to the ranch. “After watching this animal closely for over 30 days, we just don’t think he will ever feel comfortable in close proximity to people,” Walter DuPree, the zoo’s mammal curator, told the Valley Morning Star. “Many antelope adapt, but not this one.”
In April 2015, seven zebras escaped from a ranch near Brussels, Belgium. According to Marc Luyckx, who lived near the ranch and was reportedly there when the zebras escaped, the animals broke through an electric fence that wasn't working. "Normally they are quiet ... They [became] nervous and broke out into the street," he told a local news station (according to Google Translate). "The impossible has happened." Four of the rogue zebras were captured almost immediately, but three took a tunnel into the city, where they walked along a canal and and led up to five police cars on a chase for more than half an hour. The animals’ escape came to an end when they were cornered, tranquilized, and taken back to their ranch.
8. A FLAMINGO
Screenshot versus KTXS
Flamingos might be the best animal escape artists: They frequently take off from zoos, so staff there try to keep their wings clipped. The flamingo that flew the coop at Texas’s Abilene Zoo in December 2013 was with a group of birds heading into a barn to have their wings checked when it caught a gust of wind, flew over the fence, and landed in a nearby lake. "The flamingo was perfectly content in the lake," Abilene Zoo Director Bill Gersonde told local news station KTXS. "He was out swimming and having a great time." Workers chased the bird for about an hour before one of them was able to jump in and grab it. The bird was reportedly stressed but OK.
BONUS: PEOPLE DRESSED AS ANIMALS "ESCAPING" FROM ZOOS
It's important to be prepared—and that's something zoos in Japan take to heart. There, staff hold drills to prepare for animal escapes in the event their enclosures are destroyed by an earthquake. Someone dresses up like an animal, and the employees work to subdue, capture, and transport that "animal" back to its enclosure. The results are delightful; below, video of drills shows just how wonderful they can be.
This drill took place at Tama Zoo in Hino, Japan, last year. "We focused on making this drill as realistic as possible. One of our staff being knocked down, injured and then being knocked unconscious and going into cardiac arrest was a part of that," Yutaka Fukada, director of the zoo, told the International Business Times. Children weren't scared by the leopard, which was a bummer to the man playing him: "Personally I feel I did my best but it didn't work for kids. I'm a bit disappointed," Toshiya Nomura said.
This year, Yumi Tamura, a primate keeper at Ueno Zoo in Taito, Japan, dressed as a zebra for the drill, which involved 150 zoo employees as well as members of the local police and fire departments. "The zebra is an animal that easily panics," she said. "I myself felt panicky when acting it out." The director of the zoo, Toshimitsu Doi, said that "When you're doing everyday work as part of a routine, you forget what it's like when something out of the ordinary happens. It's important to take these opportunities to remember what needs to be done."
In 2012, Ueno Zoo made a giant papier mâché rhino that was piloted by two employees. According to The Telegraph, "simpler costumes are sometimes used, but the zoo's director explained that the more realistic papier mâché rhino was used this year for its 'impact.'"
For this 2014 drill at Ueno, zookeeper Natsumi Uno donned a gorilla costume. "In our work there may be times when we need to capture an animal, but we would never be the ones being captured," Uno said. "So I tried to feel what an animal might feel and realized when they were on the run they would be scared. That's how I felt."