News Irish News

Thursday 22 March 2018

Great escape? We were just apeing around . . .

Breda Heffernan

TWO apes staged their own 'great escape' as they made a break for freedom at Dublin Zoo.

The mother-and-son Siamang gibbons used a low-hanging tree branch to swing from their island enclosure at around 10am yesterday.

For around half-an-hour the zoo was put on lock-down -- the entrance gates were closed, and some 200 visitors found the tables were turned as they were shepherded into enclosed areas.

But with the world now suddenly at their feet, the formerly adventurous twosome decided home was best and returned back the way they had come without assistance and not having strayed more than a few metres from their enclosure.

After the alarm was raised, the zoo's emergency escape procedure swung into action and keepers armed with nets moved in to capture the errant apes. But after hanging around in a tree for a while, the animals decided to return home of their own volition.


The pair share the island, which is encircled by a moat, with an adult male. However, he seemed largely unimpressed with their walkabout and decided to stay put during the unfolding drama.

The 13-year-old mother, who is called Sasak, gave birth to her son, Gizmo, at Dublin Zoo in 2004. Their distinctive booming calls are regularly heard echoing around the complex.

Veronica Chrisp, head of marketing at the zoo, said it appeared recent heavy rain had weighed down a tree branch, giving the dare-devil gibbons an extra few inches from which to swing off the island.

She said the animals were never in any danger, nor did they pose a risk to zoo visitors. "We have an emergency escape procedure which we train on regularly, it's well-practised and well-rehearsed. The public are basically enclosed for the period of time that the animal is at large -- it's just to keep everything calm for the animal and not to stress it out.

"We close the gates and put everybody into enclosed spaces to keep everything quiet for the animals.

"The two gibbons were just literally hanging around in the trees. They didn't go beyond five metres of the island so they weren't really making a break for it," she added.

The zoo tries to keep the habitats as wild as possible to create a jungle atmosphere for the apes and the trees are audited each day to ensure, as far as is possible, that branches don't act as potential escape routes.

But following yesterday morning's great ape escape, a tree surgeon was brought in to prune the branch, ensuring the two gibbons won't be able to make another bid for freedom.

The Siamangs are the largest of the gibbon species and usually live in family groups. The father tends to carry the baby when it is young and they are sociable animals. They are renowned for their loud calls and songs which are created by a large throat pouch that can be inflated to the size of their head.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News