Zoos have long been a divisive subject for animal lovers. Some people believe that animals deserve to live out their lives in the wild. Others, however, believe that zoos provide a safe environment for animals to spend their days and perhaps even reproduce to continue to grow the numbers of their species.
In all of this debate, people have forgotten one important thing: what do the animals think about all of this? Some seem to love living in the zoo, whereas others require a little more space to explore the world their own way. These 12 amazing animal escape artists decided to make a break for it, and you won’t believe how!
1. The ape escape: In 1935, several different sources reported that a pack of rhesus monkeys escaped a zoo in Long Island and enjoyed days of freedom. They were apparently led by a monkey named Capone!
How did they manage such a jail break? When their keeper put down a board between their enclosure and the exit in order to feed them, they simply walked over the bridge to freedom when his back was turned.
2. Caught on tape: Two therapy llamas in Arizona escaped their owner and decided to hit the busy streets of Sun City in 2015. The police footage shot from a helicopter really added to the drama. The llamas were eventually captured by an actual cowboy, lasso and all.
3. He’s not in Kansas anymore: In 2005, a flamingo escaped from a zoo in Kansas. You’d think it would be easy to spot such a bright bird in the middle of America, but it took eight years for someone to finally track down this escapee.
The bird was found 650 miles away off Texas’s Gulf Coast. He mated with a female who escaped from a nature preserve in Mexico. Both organizations agreed to let the birds live out their lives in freedom together.
4. The escape artist: Ken Allen, an orangutan living in the San Diego Zoo in 1985, kept escaping from his enclosure. The first time, he just walked around the zoo looking at animals, and the second time he tried to hurl rocks at another orangutan he disliked.
The zoo had to hire professional rock climbers to figure out how Ken Allen kept escaping. Once they knew how he was doing it, they had to spend $40,000 to change his enclosure and keep him from wandering free and wreaking havoc.
5. He did it all for love: In 2013, zookeepers in India got the surprise of a lifetime when a male tiger walked right up to the tiger enclosure, eager to mate with the females whom he could smell living inside. The zookeepers took a chance and let the tiger wander right in!
He stayed at the zoo for months, mating, eating, and lounging, and then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he left. He escaped by climbing over a 200-foot wall and had not been seen since. Apparently, he was the love ’em and leave ’em type.
6. Big in Japan: In the city of Tokyo, a penguin named “337” escaped from the popular sea life park by wriggling through a hole in his enclosure. He was missing for almost two months and zookeepers were finally starting to fear the worst…
Amazingly, they had nothing to fear: 337 was spotted two months later and returned to the sea life park. When his doctors checked him out, they were floored to find that he was in perfect health. Apparently, city life agreed with the little guy!
7. Youth in revolt: When Rusty the red panda was just 11 months old, he was welcomed to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. One night, after a heavy rain weighed down the trees in his enclosure, he was able to escape.
Rusty remained on the loose for only a couple of days. He was found when someone posted a sighting of the red panda with a passion for rule-breaking on Twitter. He had only traveled one mile after his great escape.
8. Typical cat: When zookeepers in Florida were working to repair a lion enclosure that was damaged by heavy rains, a two-year-old lion named Nala used the opportunity to slip out and enjoy some time away from her zoo home.
But, being a cat, it wasn’t long before Nala returned and tried to get in her enclosure! Unfortunately, she was scared off by the approaching zookeepers. Eventually, using a helicopter, they spotted her, tranquilized her, and returned her to her home.
9. Twitter famous: In 2011, an Egyptian cobra living at the Bronx Zoo made a dramatic escape. People were flummoxed as to how the creature managed to sneak out. The zookeepers insisted he couldn’t have gone far and they were right, he was found just feet from his enclosure.
While the story had a pretty tame ending, that didn’t stop the cobra from becoming quite infamous during his days of freedom. New Yorkers loved the story so much that one started a Twitter account for the snake that gained 160,000 followers!
10. Road trip: Chuva the macaw escaped her zoo home in Canada in a pretty ingenious way: She somehow managed to stow away inside the RV of a family visiting the zoo. Needless to say, the family was stunned at their discovery and made sure that Chuva got home right away.
11. Born free: Virginia the wolf cub refused to be contained. She wasn’t even two years old when she managed to escape from the zoo where she lived—twice! The second time she escaped by shimmying up a tree. She is now believed to be happily living in the woods.
12. Where’s Noah when you need him? When massive flooding hit a zoo in the country of Georgia, the effects were devastating. More than 300 animals died. However, some used the opportunity to escape to freedom including, appropriately, their hippo!
13. The Snow Leopard disaster at The Dudley Zoo in England is really one for the books. The massive 40-acre premise is located on the grounds of Dudley Castle, and they have quite an amazing assortment of wildlife.
On any given day, visitors can walk along scenic wooded paths while lemurs hop freely all around them; or, they can check out the walrus enclosure and get up close and personal with the tusked mammals. But, there’s one particular animal who drew much of the attention.
It was an eight-year-old snow leopard named Margaash. The zoo was fortunate to have such a majestic and rare animal living there, and spectators seemed to always spend the most time admiring him.
Usually, it was kids that spend a long time staring into the snow leopard enclosure. And while the Dudley Zoo had a few leopards roaming the habitat, it was always Margaash that enjoyed the most attention.
While Margaash’s snow leopard buddies frequently laid low during most of the day, you better believe Margaash was ready to put on a show at a moment’s notice. His playful demeanor made him one of the zoo workers’ favorite animals.
Although Margaash had a friendly personality, he was a wild animal; workers always had to be on their guards when he was near. Employees had specific guidelines on handling every animal, but one evening, during a closing walkthrough, everything fell apart.
One employee frantically motioned for the others to gather around the snow leopard enclosure. Someone left the door wide open, and Margaash was missing. Workers looked around in a panic, unsure of where or when the snow leopard would appear.
They needed to find the animal quickly. Dudley Castle was a popular place, and not an ideal spot for a leopard to be on the prowl. It would quickly turn into a nightmare scenario if Margaash put his hunting skills to the test there.
Employees quickly contacted zoo security, who arrived stocked with tranquilizer guns and floodlights. No one was going anywhere until Margaash was located — and that was if he didn’t find them first!
After hours of careful searching, one of the workers miraculously spotted Margaash on the edge of the woodline, about to bound off the premises and into the wooded land separating the zoo from unprotected people. Workers had to make a move.
The zoo was well-stocked with tranquilizer darts for situations exactly like this one. It was too dangerous to trap the animal while it was worked up and nervous. They needed to sedate Margaash for everyone’s safety.
But strangely, it was the zoo’s vet who advised against the tranquilizer and suggested using an actual bullet instead. Night was quickly falling, and they couldn’t risk Margaash escaping into the woodlands. Zoo security heeded that advice. A single shot rang out.
Margaash’s death infuriated animal rights groups. Was there really no other option? Plenty of people were already on the fence about the ethical issues of keeping animals locked in cages, but Margaash’s death gave them a reason to call for change.
See, not only was Margaash an innocent animal who simply wandered out of his enclosure due to a zoo worker’s error, but researchers estimate only about 5,000 snow leopards even exist in the wild. With Margaash’s death, there was one less.
Julie Woodyer, the campaign director for a zoo inspection group called Zoocheck, was sickened by what happened. Snow leopards were shy animals, and since it was nighttime when Margaash escaped, streets wouldn’t have been flooded with people. She saw no reason why they used bullets.
However, Dudley Zoo director Derek Grove defended the zoo’s decision to kill the animal. Although incredibly saddened by the loss, he had the safety of innocent people in mind, and if Margaash injured anyone, he would’ve felt personally responsible.
Margaash will always remain a Dudley Zoo favorite, but nothing can bring the beautiful cat back. Even though zoo officials claim killing Margaash was their only recourse, you hope the zoo enacts stricter policies so a tragedy like this one never happens again.