animals The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time

Justin Andress
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Zoos are pretty controversial places. While some zoos do an incredible amount for preservation efforts the world over, that definitely isn't true for all zoos. Keeping wild animals caged has its own set of unique draw backs – especially when the spectators themselves aren't too bright. But sometimes zoos just aren't able to keep their animals locked up. 

Since the modern zoo came into being nearly a century ago, crazy zoo escapes have been a fixture of society. Sometimes, the animals are bored of captivity and make a daring escape; other times, gaps in their fences allow them to step free. When transplanted from their natural environment, animals have shown a remarkable aptitude for springing themselves from the joint. Everything from kangaroos to hippos have joined the proud tradition of animals who broke free from their cells using wildly diverse means.

In honor of all those animals on the loose, here are the wildest zoo escapes in history.

175 Rhesus Monkeys Escaped A Long Island Zoo In 1935


175 Rhesus Monkeys Escaped A L... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time
Photo: J.M. Garg/Wikimedia Commons/GFDL

Admittedly, there are conflicting reports on this story even in reputable newspapers, but the basic facts go something like this: Led by a rhesus monkey named Capone, more than 150 rhesus monkeys (the Chicago Tribune put the number at 175) escaped a Long Island Zoo for several days in 1935. 

Most reports agree that the monkeys’ keeper was going about his normal cleaning duties when the monkeys made their move. He placed a board across the moat that spanned the rhesus monkeys’ island and went to work. Meanwhile, the enterprising rhesus monkeys simply walked across the board to freedom. Again, reports here conflict. While the Tribune said the keeper was set upon by the horde, the Evening Post played the story a bit more wholesomely.

Ultimately, the zoo offered locals a free season pass (or just plain money) if they could return the missing monkeys to their home. It's unclear if all were returned.

Ken Allen, The Orangutan, Escaped To Taunt His Orangutan Enemy


Ken Allen, The Orangutan, Esca... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time
Photo: Kabir Bakie/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

During the summer of 1985, an orangutan named Ken Allen at the world famous San Diego Zoo repeatedly outsmarted his keepers for several months. He would escape by climbing the retaining wall that separated him from the public using a series of virtually non-existent handholds. Allen's industrious climbing stumped zoo employees and inspired a fan club that grew with each successful escape attempt.

The first time Ken Allen escaped, he wandered around the zoo staring at the other animals before he was led back to his spot. The second time, Ken Allen took the opportunity to visit a much-despised fellow orangutan named Otis in order to throw rocks at him. The third time, Ken Allen found a crowbar left behind by a zoo employee but didn't use it.

After that, employees began to keep watch on Ken Allen to figure out how he was climbing out of his enclosure. Like any good convict, Ken Allen stopped trying to escape when eyes were on him. Even when zoo employees went undercover as tourists, Allen still wasn’t fooled. The zoo had to hire expert rock climbers to figure out how he was getting out and then spent $40,000 to fix the rocks so he couldn't access his escape route anymore.

One Indian Tiger Did It All For The Nookie – Then Escaped


One Indian Tiger Did It All Fo... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time
Photo: Traveloscopy/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

In 2013, a wild tiger sauntered happily out of the forest and onto the grounds of India's Nandankanan Zoo. Rationalizing the tiger had showed up to try and get with the zoo’s captive female, zookeepers took a chance and threw open the door to the enclosure. The male tiger happily wandered into the tiger enclosure and promptly made himself right at home

For the next several weeks, the tiger seemed happy to eat, nap, pace, and, of course, have sex. Then, as nonchalantly as he arrived, he escaped, scaling a two-story security wall in order to make his escape. To this day, the tiger remains at large.

Penguin 337 Escaped The Tokyo Zoo And Remained At Large For Two Months


Penguin 337 Escaped The Tokyo ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time
Photo:  Pixabay

In 2012, a Humboldt penguin named 337 managed to scale a wall and squeeze through a hole in the fence at the Tokyo Sea Life Park. It then remained at large in Japan’s capital city for nearly two months before it was recovered.

Perhaps most surprisingly, 337 was able to subsist in the urban landscape relatively unscathed. When he was spotted and recovered, a spokesman for the Tokyo Sea Life Park said the penguin was in good health and had even managed to hunt successfully, maintaining its weight throughout the ordeal.

Rusty The Red Panda Escaped The National Zoo After Only A Week In Custody


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Video: YouTube

One morning in June 2013, zookeepers at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, opened the red panda enclosure to find their recent acquisition, an 11-month-old red panda named Rusty, had gone missing. According to keepers, Rusty had escaped when rains weighed down trees near the enclosure allowing him a pathway to escape.

In the short span of time before he was recaptured (thanks to a tip on Twitter), Rusty was able to travel nearly a mile. Since his escape, the red panda and his mate, Shama, were relocated to the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA to start a sweet red panda family.

One Flamingo Is Living Proof That Nobody Like Kansas


One Flamingo Is Living Proof T... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time
Photo: Steve Garvie/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2005, an African flamingo made a break from a zoo in Kansas (because, obviously). Though a search was organized to find the little guy, it was to no avail; the flamingo had gone missing. Until eight years later, that is, when bird watcher Neil Hayward spotted the flamingo 650 miles away on Texas’s Gulf Coast.

Apparently, the flamingo had migrated to the ocean and found himself a partner who’d escaped from a Mexican nature reserve years earlier. When notified of their bird’s existence, the Kansas zoo wished the flamingo luck and stated they’d allow the bird to continue living in the wild.

Despite Escaping, All Lioness Nala Wanted To Do Was Come Home


Despite Escaping, All Lioness ... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Wildest Zoo Animal Escapes Of All Time
Photo: inkknife/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1997, heavy rains damaged the lion enclosure at Jungleland, a seven-acre zoo in Kissimmee, FL. While workers attempted to fix the cage, a two-and-a-half-year-old lioness named Nala made a break for it and stayed on the lam for nearly two days.

Like an escaped house cat, however, keepers at Jungleland reported that Nala – who had been raised in captivity – tried to return to her cage on at least one occasion after escaping. Unfortunately, the frightened lion would flee before workers could get close enough to help her. Nala was finally caught when she was spotted by a search helicopter, which led keepers to Nala’s location. She was immediately tranquilized and led safely back to Jungleland.

When A Cobra Escaped The Bronx Zoo, It Earned More Than 160,000 Twitter Followers


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Video: YouTube

For a period of six days in 2011, the Bronx Zoo’s Egyptian cobra slipped its confines and ignited a citywide manhunt. Of course, the reptile’s keepers insisted the cobra hadn’t gone far the entire time it was on the lam. It turns out they were right, as the 20-inch-long cobra was found just a few hundred feet from her enclosure, safe and sound. 

As it happened, though, the snake’s escape was a big topic of conversation among New Yorkers. One person even began a hugely successful Twitter account for the snake that began with the opening line, “I want to thank those animals from the movie Madagascar. They were a real inspiration."