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Speiriscope: Zoo escapees

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What would you do if you ran into a hippopotamus?

Would you thrash him from top to bottomus?

That's a question staff at the Calgary Zoo had to ponder when one of their two hippos escaped its holding area during the recent flooding.

When the water level rose high enough, an adventurous young male named Lobi swam over the top of his holding area and went for a little paddle around the African Savannah building.

Observed Jake Veasey, the zoo's director of animal care: "There was the potential for the hippos to swim out of this building into a flooded zoo and potentially into the Bow River and we could have had hippos God knows where."

The female hippo, Sparky, stayed put, but Lobi explored the flooded building and squeezed through a narrow door into a corridor, becoming stuck and angry.

That's when Veasey and his clever zoo team built a ramp out of sandbags, allowing the unhappy hippo to climb over a bar and back into his enclosure, his hard hippo hide squeaking against the metal all the way.

The thing is, Lobi's adventure is just the tip of a gigantic iceberg, which, if flipped over, would expose a jungle of escaped zoo animals, including our Top 5:

5) The culprit: Cyril the Sea Lion.

The escape: In the dark of night on June 18, 1958, Cyril slipped out of his pool at Storybook Gardens Zoo in London, Ont., and into the nearby Thames River. He then swam from the Thames to Lake St. Clair, down the Detroit River and into Lake Erie, and was eventually found lolling around a boathouse in Sandusky, Ohio. His trip covered about 643 kilometres before he was nabbed by a team led by Toledo Zoo director Phil Skeldon. According to a story in the Toledo Blade: "There was some controversy -- and international publicity -- over whether Cyril would be sent home and, for a while, there was a strain in the historically peaceful relations between the U.S. and Canada. But an agreement finally was arranged and Mr. Skeldon led a procession back into London, where the sea lion was greeted by a crowd of some 23,000 people."

4) The culprit: Virginia the Wolf.

The escape: Virginia was a repeat offender who apparently did not understand one basic fact -- wolves don't climb trees. According to news reports, this clever timber wolf broke out of the Los Angeles Zoo multiple times in 1979 by scaling trees, climbing fences and walking along branches to freedom. "At one point, she eluded veterinarians and zoo officials for a month," a story states. "They spotted Virginia occasionally and tried to subdue her with tranquillizer guns, to no avail." It's not known where Virginia ended up, but we assume she signed a book deal.

3) The culprits: Evelyn and Jim the gorillas.

The escape(s): The late 1990 and early 2000s were a rough time for the Los Angeles Zoo as at least 35 inmates broke out during a five-year stretch, including an infamous gorilla named Evelyn. Says "Over the years, Evelyn escaped her enclosure some four or five times. Once, she jumped onto another gorilla's back to hop over the wall." Her primate in crime was named Jim and ABC news has said the duo escaped so many times the zoo received a warning from federal officials. Kept in an enclosure designed for bears, "the gorillas would use vines to climb out, even one time bounding the wall with a running jump," a CNN report recalls.

2) The culprit: Capone the rhesus monkey and his gang.

The escape: Call it The Case of the Monkeys that Overran Long Island. According to the New York Times, when an employee of Frank Buck's Jungle Camp Animal Park near Amityville accidentally left a plank across an exhibit moat in 1935, Capone led 172 of his rhesus monkey cohorts to freedom. What happened next? They went bananas. Police were besieged by calls reporting monkeys crawling around houses in a nearby town. The naughty monkeys even chased away a railroad gang and stopped a locomotive for about five minutes. In the end, the park offered free passes in exchange for returned monkeys.

1) The Culprit: Ken Allen the orangutan.

The escape(s): Dubbed the "Hairy Houdini" of the San Diego Zoo, Ken Allen is arguably the greatest animal escape artist of all time. Born at the zoo in 1971, the Bornean orangutan became legendary for a series of escapes in the 1980s. He reportedly once taught another orangutan how to use a branch like a crowbar to bust out. The zoo's website declared: "He never seemed to mind being led back into his enclosure -- he just seemed to enjoy the challenge of finding a new way out!" After his death in 2000, a newspaper obit gushed: "Beloved ape, 29, was renowned escape artist."

The point is, you should always keep your eyes open, because you never know who you're going to run into.

Q: If you happen to see an alligator?

A: Run like heck and say: "See you later!"


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 D2

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