3 Gorillas Escape Enclosure at Como Park Zoo

Updated: 07/11/2014 12:57 PM
Created: 07/10/2014 10:46 AM

A band of gorillas briefly escaped their main enclosure at Como Park Zoo on Thursday but no people or animals were ever at risk, according to zoo officials.

At 9:50 a.m. a radio call was made that a bachelor group of three gorillas had left their indoor enclosure through an unsecured door behind the scenes of the indoor gorilla habitat, according to zoo officials.

We're told the gorillas were always secured within the building and within "gorilla-proof" barriers. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory does not open to the public until 10 a.m., and those on the grounds were told by zoo officials to get to a secured safe areas as a precaution.

Zoo staff say the gorillas were just curious. A staff member left a door unlocked at the indoor gorilla exhibit, and within 10 minutes, three gorillas found a way out.

They never left the building, and zoo officials say they were always secure in a gorilla-proof area, and their emergency management plan worked well.

The 450-pound Virgil got out of this glass enclosure and wandered around the back of the exhibit for nearly an hour.

"Virgil didn't even go as far as we anticipated he would go," said Allison Jungheim, Senior Zoo Keeper, Como Zoo.

For a while he was joined by the other two 15-year-old bachelors, Sampson and Jabir, but after 20 minutes, they got bored.

"They decided they had enough of that and went into their habitat," said Matt Reinartz, Como Park Zoo Spokesperson.

Virgil found the jackpot: the closet where all of his treats are stored.

"You have a pretty good-sized gorilla that was ruining the enrichment closet," Jungheim said.

The zoo went on lock-down, calling out code 99, which activates their emergency response plan.

The zoo was set to open in 10 minutes, so visitors weren't allowed into the zoo.

"They wanted to people to start making their way inside the conservatory," said Mark Westphall, a zoo visitor.

"We were just kind of guessing what it could be; was it a zebra, was it a giraffe, gorilla? We didn't have any idea," said Angie Rogosheske, a zoo visitor.

Allison Jungheim is one of five zookeepers trained with a tranquilizer. Her traquilizer was ready but was never used on Virgil.

In the case of a more dangerous animal, like a tiger or lion, there are dozens of zoo keepers trained in using a firearm in case of their escape.

"You do not want to destroy a Great Ape; they're very valuable genetically, and they are not likely to kill or harm a person," Jungheim said.

They usually don't escape, either.

"We're a world class zoo; world class zoos don't have this kind of this happening, so it was quite a surprise to us," Reinartz said.

After about 50 minutes of wandering free,Virgil was finally coaxed back inside his enclosed habitat; no harm, no foul.

The St. Paul Police were notified of the issue, but since the gorilla was inside a building, they weren't asked to respond.

The last time a gorilla got out, was in 1994; Casey leaped over the enclosure at the old exhibit. He saw the veterinarian, he didn't like it and jumped back into the exhibit.

File Photo: A gorilla at the Como Zoo

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