8 Zoo Animals That Might Escape One Day (and How to Protect Yourself)
Written by admin on August 6, 2022
Part of the cost of doing business as a zoo is that occasionally, the animals are going to try and make a run for it. An orangutan named Ken repeatedly escaped from his enclosure at the San Diego Zoo. A gorilla named Evelyn temporarily escaped from her home at the Los Angeles Zoo. Even a hippopotamus managed to take a stroll down a nearby road after getting loose at the Fleishhacker Zoo (now called the San Francisco Zoo). The point is, even though zoo escapes are incredibly rare, they do happen. That means it’s possible you could be out for a walk one day, minding your own business, and come face-to-face with an exotic animal the likes of which you’ve never seen this close up.
What are you supposed to do in that scenario, besides call 911? Here is a thorough guide for exactly what you should do if you come eye-to-eye with an escaped zoo animal—depending on which animal it happens to be.
There are several hundred lions in zoos across North America, which makes the odds of you encountering one on the street low, but not zero. According to Discover Wildlife, if you come across a lion, do not run. “It is vital to stand your ground, perhaps retreating very slowly, but to continue facing the lion while clapping your hands, shouting and waving your arms around to make yourself look bigger. Most charges are mock charges, so you will usually be fine. And remember: Hold your ground! Never run or turn your back.”
If you encounter a hippopotamus while out for your afternoon stroll, the first thing you want to do is stay calm. According to wildlife educator Rob Nelson, “If a hippo opens its mouth to flash its teeth, flee immediately.” He explains, “If you’re on land, find cover. You can’t outrun a hippo in a straight line, so find a tree, rock or vehicle to get between you and the hippo. This will help slow their attack and perhaps help you get safely to shelter. Run in a zig-zag if you have to. The mass of a hippo makes it difficult for them to change direction, so ‘faking them out’ by quickly changing directions can work in your favor long enough to get to safety.”
Unless you’ve spent a lot of time with Mike Tyson, odds are you don’t have much experience around tigers. But if you happen to encounter one, Vicky Flynn of the TigerTime Wildlife Foundation has this advice: “Do not run. Like all cats, tigers enjoy a chase… Do not approach the tiger. Tigers, especially captive tigers, will be scared by the unusual setting and will probably be highly agitated. Stay away. Get yourself somewhere high up. Tigers are not good climbers and will generally not follow you up a tree.”
Elephants are peaceful animals, but they will get aggressive if they feel like they’re in danger. Should you encounter one, Zambia-based safari guide Jacob Shawa says, “Stay calm, don’t run, and show you’re not a threat by keeping your distance. Real charges are rare. Ears will be pinned back, and the trunk curled inwards. There won’t be any displacement activities, and it may lower its head before approaching without hesitation.”
Should you somehow encounter a giant panda in the wild, you don’t have much to worry about so long as you don’t act like an idiot. Pandas are non-aggressive animals and have only been known to attack humans out of irritation, not aggression. Dr. Wang Tianbing says, “Normally, we think the panda is a very tender animal, but actually it’s a bear. If the animal thinks it will be hurt by human beings, it is very dangerous.” So long as you stay out of the panda’s way, you’ll be fine.
Despite whatever kinship you might feel sharing so much DNA with this jungle animal, it’s best to take caution if you come face-to-face with an escaped gorilla. According to the website of Congo’s Virunga National Park, you should make sure to not look the gorilla directly in the eyes. Additionally, you should crouch down and make yourself as small as possible. If the gorilla does approach you and grabs/tugs at your clothes, that just means it’s curious; no need to panic (easier said than done).
Did you know there are 99 zoos in the United States that house rhinos? And if one escapes a zoo near you, you’ll want to be prepared. Wildlife educator Rob Nelson offers two pieces of advice to those who come across the horned creature: “Stay fairly still. Remember—rhinos can’t see well, so if you’re fairly still and don’t seem to be a threat, they may mistake you for a tree and keep grazing,” he explains. “Climb a tree if there is one nearby. They can’t climb, and if you can get up a few feet they’re probably not going to pursue. If you can’t get up the tree, standing behind it is a good approach.”
While commonplace for our Aussie friends Down Under, no one would fault you for not knowing what to do should you encounter an escaped kangaroo on the streets of America. Luckily, the Australian Department of Environment and Science has guidance. They advise, “If you are approached by an aggressive kangaroo or wallaby, you should keep it at a safe distance so that it can’t kick or scratch. For example, hold up a stick or branch, or stay behind a fence or a tree. Move away from the animal as quickly as you can. Turning your back on it and running could be dangerous as a large male can easily outrun you and still kick at the same time.”