Great ape escape: Cheeky chimps break out of zoo pen using fallen branch as 'ladder'
A group of chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure at Belfast Zoo on Saturday afternoon by making an improvised ladder from tree branches.
One chimpanzee jumped out of the enclosure and walked along a path with members of the public, while others sat on a wall above the enclosure and watched.
Dean McFaul and Danielle Monaghan filmed the escape and circulated the videos on social media where they went viral. They were at the zoo with Ms Monaghan's children Grace (8) and Leo (6), and Mr McFaul's four-year-old nieces Summer and Willow.
The couple, who live in Holywood, Co Down, were amazed at what they saw. Mr McFaul said there was no doubt in his mind that the escape was "orchestrated" and that the chimpanzees worked as a team to escape the enclosure.
"They started walking out of the hut one by one, it was like they organised what they were going to do," he said. "They grabbed wood, walked to the other side of the enclosure, put the wood against the wall and then they all lined up and started climbing up the wall."
Mr McFaul said that he was not overly concerned because the chimpanzees did not appear aggressive.
But he said that zoo staff were concerned.
"They were shocked and they told us to 'get the kids and get out right now'," he said. "It seemed like they thought they might do something."
Mr McFaul said that the experience didn't ruin their trip to the zoo and said it had been the "best day ever".
Belfast Zoo spokesperson Alan Cairns said that the chimpanzees had been able to build the ladder after the trees in their enclosure had been weakened by storms. He said they only remained outside their enclosure for a short time before returning as they were "quite cowardly".
"We like things to be natural in their enclosure, to have trees in it, but we will review it," he said. "We may have to remove the trees or make them a smaller level, although we don't want to do that."
He said the chimps were then locked in their enclosure to prevent a further breakout.