'Ringleader' chimp used 6-foot-long log to escape - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Zoo officials say 'ringleader' chimp used 6-foot-long log to escape

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The Africa section of the Kansas City Zoo was temporarily closed after multiple chimps escaped from their exhibit.

About 5:45 p.m. zoo officials said all chimpanzees were back in their exhibit, visitors were free to leave and everything was back under control.

Spokesperson Julie Neemeyer said the zoo closes at 4 p.m., but visitors were still there when they realized the chimps had escaped.

At the time the staff told everyone to stay in their cars and not to mill around the parking lot.

A woman named Tiffany said she and her cousin each took their 2-year-old children to the zoo Thursday, and they were ushered into the zoo's theater in the Africa section for safety. She counted about 43 people in the theater with them.

Zoo employees told visitors they were free to leave, but it was at risk to their own safety until they had caged all chimpanzees.

Randy Wisthoff, CEO and executive director of the Kansas City Zoo, said seven chimps got up on the tall cement wall surrounding their enclosure, three got down on the other side to where they call the keeper side and the other four stayed up on the wall and never came down.

The biggest chimp that got out weighed roughly 150 pounds and the smallest roughly 80 pounds, but they are tremendously strong.

Neemeyer said the other chimpanzees were corralled pretty quickly, but a female one remained out of her exhibit the longest.

Wisthoff said staff found that one "ringleader" chimp had used a 6-foot-long log or piece of a tree as a ladder to escape.That chimp then got the others to follow.

"We go out and walk the exhibit every day, looking for things like that. They did that this morning, didn't find anything," he said. "Our problem becomes, chimps are so much stronger than humans that they can go up in a tree and pull on something long enough to pull a piece of log off, which is apparently what happened."

Wisthoff said all chimps came back on their own and staff used food as a final enticement to get them back over the wall.

"They're hungry, they've been out all day, they'd had their breakfast but they're hungry. So they always come in at night to get their dinner. So their daily routine was to come in to dinner, so we used that and got some of that food outside. That way the chimps that were hungry would respond to get some dinner and they came in like it was no big deal," he said.

Wisthoff said they didn't all come in at once and, as each came in, staff would lock the door, shift them, then open the door again. He added that they used the chimps' fruits and vegetables, but staff may have had to use some malted milk balls in the end.

"The final enticement, which is not their normal diet," he said. "If any of you've had children or animals that you want to do that one last thing that they don't quite want to do, you use anything at your disposal and I think a bag of malted milk balls was the ultimate, irresistible treat."

The zoo's director said this also happened in 2004 when he first arrived in April and extremely gusty winds caused a tree to fall over from the Swope Park side and fall down into the exhibit. A number of chimps used the tree to escape, but staff were able to calmly herd them back in much like they did Thursday.

The chimps will not be on exhibit Friday as staff will go through their exhibit to look for weak parts of the trees and possible branches that the chimps could use.

Dr. Bud Hertzog, a former zoo vet who still consults with the zoo, said Thursday's situation wasn't one that called for panic. He added that the zoo staff is well trained to handle such an emergency and that calm is key.

Wisthoff said the zoo had about 1,800 visitors Thursday but, by 4 p.m., it had thinned out quite a bit to somewhere between 100 and 200 spread out in the Africa exhibit, which is 100 acres.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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