5 min read

Clever Chimps Use Makeshift Ladder To Break Out Of Zoo

They wanted an adventure ❤️

These curious zoo chimps wanted a change of scenery — and this weekend, that’s just what they got.

On Saturday, at the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland, a group of captive chimpanzees built a makeshift ladder out of a tree limb to escape their enclosure. Video footage taken by a guest shows the primates climbing the branch and then scaling the wall to leave, as a child in the background can be heard saying, "Don't escape, you bad little gorilla!" Apes were then spotted minutes later walking around the zoo grounds like visitors.

Visitors said that while the experience was scary, especially with so many young children there, they couldn’t help but appreciate seeing the animals so up-close.

Luckily, after a glimpse of freedom, the chimps wandered back to their enclosure on their own, and neither the primates nor any guests were harmed. But if past escape incidents around the world are any indicator, these chimps are lucky their run-in with guests didn’t end in tragedy — like in 2016 when Cincinnati Zoo officials shot a gorilla after a toddler climbed into his enclosure.

These aren't the only animals to escape at the Belfast Zoo in recent months. A red panda named Amber escaped her enclosure last month, and was later found in a garden a mile away from the zoo.

Erika Fleury, program director for the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), says it’s critical for zoos and sanctuaries alike to understand just how ingenuitive all primates can be — which unfortunately can pose risks if they are to escape.

chimp escape zoo ireland
One of the chimps with a frozen snack at the zoo | Instagram/Belfast Zoo

“Chimpanzees and other primates are crafty and observant, which can make it difficult to keep them safely contained in captivity,” Fleury told The Dodo. “They are expert escape artists! Accreditation is so important for facilities who care for animals (like zoos and sanctuaries) because outside oversight helps ensure safe and secure enclosure design and that practical emergency plans are in place. And yet, things can still happen.”

chimp escape zoo
One of the escaped chimps walking on the sidewalk | Facebook/Danielle Monaghan

At NAPSA member sanctuaries, Fleury said staff frequently check over the animals’ habitats to ensure their security and safety. Smaller items like a tree branch can allow chimps or other primates to easily climb out.

If an escape does happen, staff members are amply trained to handle all possible scenarios. While the Belfast Zoo is accredited and is supposed to have this same training, Fleury is glad the chimps behaved so calm and casual during their escape. Otherwise, they may not have been so lucky.

“It's really fortunate that the chimps were not frightened and did not get excited or aggressive,” Fleury said. “If they had, it would have been a normal and expected chimpanzee reaction to a novel situation, but it would have likely resulted in a different — and more traumatic — outcome."

For now, the chimps’ fans are just happy the apes are safe and sound after their recent breakout — but if the video of their escape is any indication, the clever chimps are likely already plotting their next outing.

To help care for rescued primates, you can make a donation to North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.