AR-News: Violent gorilla escape leads to investigations

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Sun Mar 21 20:11:13 EST 2004


my internet signiture from down the message cannot be more in place then now:
"the wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. he is in front of it" - axel munthe
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From:primfocus at waste.org

http://www.dhonline.com/articles/2004/03/20/news/nation/nat04.txt
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Last modified Saturday, March 20, 2004 12:08 PM PST
Violent gorilla escape leads to investigations

By LISA FALKENBERG
The Associated Press

DALLAS - The scene at the Wilds of Africa exhibit was wilder than anything
most zookeepers have witnessed in the jungle: A 340-pound gorilla breaks out
of its enclosure and goes on a 40-minute rampage through a forest, snatching
up a toddler with his teeth and attacking three other people before being
shot to death by officers.

Federal regulators are investigating the Dallas Zoo over Thursday's escape,
zoo officials are trying to figure out how the gorilla managed to break out,
and animal welfare advocates are questioning whether officers had to kill
the beast.

"Clearly, this is a zoo's worst nightmare," said Dan Wharton, director of
the Central Park Zoo and chairman of the American Zoo and Aquarium
Association's Gorilla Species Survival Plan.

The 13-year-old Jabari broke out of the enclosure as several families and
children took in the jungle exhibit Thursday afternoon. After escaping, the
gorilla darted in and out of the exhibit's thick bamboo and trees and
attacked four people, including two women and two children.

Police were forced to evacuate an estimated 300 people from the zoo
compound, while some guests hid inside a restaurant and the monorail
surrounding the Wilds of Africa exhibit.

Exactly how the gorilla got loose was unclear. Some youths had reportedly
teased Jabari shortly before he escaped, but it was not known if that was a
factor.

Zoo employees searched Friday for broken tree limbs, footprints, fur -
anything that could provide a clue to how Jabari escaped. They found
nothing.

"We're just beginning to wonder whether this is some kind of superhuman feat
of physical prowess," said Rich Buickerood, who has directed the Dallas Zoo
for 12 years. "We just can't believe it."

Buickerood believes the gorilla somehow managed to scale the enclosure's
15-foot concave wall, but experts doubt that could have happened.

"Virtually anybody who's worked with great apes has not been able to compute
anyway that a gorilla could get up a 15-foot wall," Wharton said. "When you
boil it all down, at some level, one has to assume human error."

Past escapes were caused by human error, such as leaving doors open, said
Johnpaul Jones, who designed the Dallas exhibit.

Only two gorillas, including one in Boston last year, have escaped in the
last five years in North America, said Wharton, who coordinates the records
for the 380 gorillas on the continent.

The injured included a mother and her toddler son. Rivers Noah, 3, was in
fair condition at Children's Medical Center with multiple bites to his head
and chest. His mother, Keisha Heard, 26, was bitten on the legs.

"I was like, 'This is not happening, this is so unreal,' because he just
came out of nowhere," Heard said Friday on NBC's "Today" show. "He has my
son in his mouth, he's attacking him, and I tried to help him and there
wasn't really anything that I could do. ... He slings me back across the
concrete area where we are."

Heard was treated and released along with a woman who suffered arm injuries.
A child was treated at the scene.

Federal regulators said their investigation will look at whether the zoo was
in full compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, but they would not provide
specifics on possible violations.

Darby Holladay, a spokesman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, said the zoo could face fines or have its license suspended or
revoked if it is found out of compliance.

Police are conducting an internal investigation, but they said officers were
forced to shoot the charging gorilla after it came within 15 feet of them.

"We did not go out there looking to kill an animal," said Senior Cpl. Chris
Gilliam, a Dallas police spokesman. "We went out there in response to a
situation where three people had already been injured."

Dieter Steklis, chief scientist and vice president for the Atlanta-based
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, said police could have tried to
contain the gorilla with nonfatal techniques, including using rubber bullets
or cornering it with a wall of 15-20 people, preferably keepers the animal
recognized.

"It sounds like, somehow, there was a bit too much panic on hand and too
little judgment of the gorilla's behavior," said Steklis, who has confronted
charging gorillas in the wild.

Workers armed with tranquilizer guns had pursued the gorilla, but could not
gain a clear shot, officials said. Gilliam said he did not know why zoo
employees who were armed with pepper spray did not use it on the gorilla.

He said the officers used the best method available considering the size of
the animal. "Plastic bullets wouldn't help," Gilliam said.

The 114-year-old zoo has been in financial straits in recent years.
Buickerood said last month that the zoo staff had been cut and maintenance
postponed because of the fund shortage. But budget woes aren't connected to
the escape, Buickerood said.

In 1998, a 25-year-old zookeeper was mauled by a 340-pound silverback
gorilla at the zoo after the door to the animal's cage was left open. The
attack lasted more than 30 minutes, leaving the zookeeper with more than 30
puncture wounds. That animal was captured with a tranquilizer dart.

the wild, cruel beast is not behind the bars of the cage. he is in front of it - axel munthe

"Never doubt that a small group of dedicated citizens can change the world. 
Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."      Margaret Mead
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