Cover pic LiveScience
Bonnie & Clyde, High Park Zoo Toronto,
In the summer of 2016 a daring duo of capybaras staged an escape during their transfer to the zoo, evaded capture and stayed on the run for more than a month before they were caught. Bonnie and Clyde in furry rodent form. Of course all the publicity they attracted did the zoo and its visitor numbers no harm at all, particularly when this February the pair hit the headlines once again by becoming proud parents to three cute capybara babies. It seems these truants were honeymooning all along.
An Animal Conspiracy?
Would you ever have thought an animal as big and conspicuous as a kangaroo could be wandering at large in Germany? Well in 2012 not one kangaroo, but three – Skippy, Mick and Jack – broke free from a zoological park near Frankfurt, aided and abetted by local wildlife, a fox and a wild boar. They’d dug holes under the park’s fences through which the trio escaped. No-one is quite sure if the fox and the boar were motivated by fellow feeling for the incarcerated trio, or the handy holes were just a bye-product of a hunt for worms.
Timorous Skippy was recaptured almost immediately. Jack two days later after “a long chase”. As kangas travel at about 15mph, that must have been a sight to behold. Mick was the last kanga still at large. The park’s deputy head Michael Hoffman reassured the public: “He’s super friendly, super nice. Absolutely no danger at all .”
His eventual capture was as spectacular as his jailbreak – he was “pounced on by a policeman”. I’m guessing the only kanga anywhere ever to be taken into custody by an officer of the law.
How about breaking into the zoo?
Why on earth would an animal do such a thing? A nameless wild Bengal tiger could give you the answer – if you could find him. It seems though he was looking for love. Feminine allure proved irresistible for this guy when in 2012 he broke into a female’s enclosure at Nandankanan Zoo. No-one including the lady herself seemed to mind and the male stayed there happily for several weeks. Until he decided enough was enough and scaled the enclosure’s two-storey high security wall, disappearing into the night never to be seen again, much to the disappointment of the zoo. History does not record if the love match resulted in the patter of tiny paws.
Ghost Cat of Dartmoor
Remember beautiful Flaviu? The young lynx who last July, newly arrived at Dartmoor Zoo, broke out by chewing through a board in the wall of his enclosure? He enjoyed three whole weeks of roaming free, successfully evading zoo staff, volunteers, police, helicopters, drones, baited traps, motion sensor cameras, and even the services of ‘a secretive individual with expertise in tracking’, before he was re-captured.
There was no question about this cat’s ability to survive in the wild. The only fear was that he might be targeted as a coveted hunting trophy to inflate some bonehead’s ego. But I for one was sad when this wild cat was returned to the zoo. No doubt the farmers who lost four lambs to him thought otherwise.
How has Flaviu been in the 9 months or so that have elapsed since his taste of freedom? “Though the lynx is safe and sound, zoo officials say he is ‘grumpy,’ and report that they are trying to find Flaviu a female companion to lift his mood.”
And then there was Inky
What can I say?
Finally, the Sad Tale of Ken Allen
Borneo orangutan Ken Allen aka Houdini (San Diego Zoo) romps away with the multiple-escape award, no competition. In 1985 he made no less than three attempts in as many months. The first time, in June, he was spotted enjoying a leisurely stroll along one of the zoo’s public paths – having scaled the wall of his ‘escape-proof’ enclosure.
“Zoo staff began surveillance of his enclosure to try to catch him in the act, only to find that Ken Allen seemed to be aware that he was being watched for that very purpose. This forced zookeepers to go “undercover”, posing as tourists to learn Ken Allen’s escape route, but Ken Allen was not fooled. Moreover, other orangutans began following Ken Allen’s lead and began escaping from the enclosure. Zoo officials eventually hired experienced rock climbers to find every finger, toe, and foothold within the enclosure and spent $40,000 to eliminate the identified holds.”¹
Not to be daunted, in July he broke out again. In August the cunning ape, finding a crowbar accidentally left in his pen, tossed it over to a female by the name of Vicki who was able to use it to open a window and let him out.
In spite of his will to live free, poor Ken Allen remained captive in the zoo until his death from cancer in 2000 aged 29. Born in captivity, died in captivity. RIP Ken Allen.
These animal capers are pure gold for the press. Even more so for the zoos concerned, as well as a source of entertaining fun for the public. Ken Allen’s exploits were celebrated on t-shirts, and he had his own fan club, much good though that did him.
But if there is one moral we can draw from these tales, it is this: these animals seized upon any opportunity that presented itself to break out of imprisonment. Wild animals even if born in captivity are wild. And that is where they long to be – in the wild. They want their autonomy. No less than the human animal they want to be free.
Freedom is the foremost of rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it top of the list:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Yet freedom is the very thing the human animal denies his fellow earthdwellers. I would like to remove the word “human” from that sentence in Article 1.
Zoos justify the incarceration of nonhuman animals on grounds of education, research and conservation of endangered species. It would take a PhD-length dissertation to examine the research, debunk myths and expose the ‘greenwashing’ that goes on.
The truth is, the only animals happy in zoos are the human ones.
Please never visit the zoo.
Please sign and share the Declaration of Animal Rights here
Learn about Born Free Foundation’s Zoo Check here
Support the work of the Captive Animals Protection Society here
Support the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project here
You can read the story of 6 more daring escapes here
¹Ken Allen – Wiki
On the Lam: 10 of the Greatest Animal Escape Artists – LiveScience
Tiger Escapes from Nandakanan Zoo in Odisha – Hindustan Times
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