It was like a scene from Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, the 1971 classic starring Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter as highly intelligent chimpanzees who flee their world and travel back in time to present-day America. On Saturday, at the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland, a group of chimpanzees made a makeshift ladder out of fallen tree branches and attempted to escape from their enclosure.
The chimps, who were caught on video climbing over the wall and walking peacefully around the zoo, returned on their own to their enclosure. One of the adult chimpanzees can be seen walking past four children.
“They’re intelligent primates and know they’re not supposed to be out of their enclosure, so got back in themselves,” Manager Alyn Cairns told the BBC. “We think what has happened is that the trees in their enclosure have been weakened by the storms and so they’ve been able to break them and use them as a ladder to get out.
“We like things to be natural in their enclosure, to have trees in it, but we will review it,” she added.
The video of the escaped apes was posted on Twitter by Elaine Monaghan, whose grandchildren were at the zoo at the time. “Why weren’t the enclosures checked? This could have ended very badly. This is how close it came to my grandchildren,” she wrote.
“Just happy it ended well,” she added. “Having four children with them they tried to act as calmly as possible so as not to frighten the kids. Everyone has their own way of reacting. Had it been me I’d have run for the hills.”
The incident occurred only a month after an endangered red panda named Amber made her escape from the Belfast Zoo. Local police issued a public appeal to find the Himalayan cub, who was eventually located in a residential garden in Collinbridge, Newtonabbey.
The Belfast Zoo has seven chimpanzees and, according to its website, its dominant male is named Andy.
The Belfast City Council downplayed the escape saying that only one chimpanzee had “briefly” left the enclosure. “Zookeepers were present as the chimpanzee quickly returned from an adjacent wall to the rest of the group inside the enclosure,” a spokeswoman said. “Belfast Zoo would like to thank members of the public who helped raise the alarm as zookeepers moved in to return the animal to its enclosure.”
Last June, a spider monkey escaped the same zoo and was killed by a car on the motorway. A pedestrian who spotted the monkey before he was run over reportedly rang the zoo but there was no answer.
The incident resulted in calls for an urgent review of the zoo’s security. There have also been other escapes from the Belfast Zoo in recent years. In 2015, two lion-tailed macaques got out, while, in 2013, six others ran off. On both occasions, the apes were located without incident.