Ask a Zookeeper: When Animals Escape



As many of you know, I am the Zookeeper-in-Residence on Jobstr.com--a website where "you can ask people anything about their jobs and answer questions about yours. It’s as though [they] took the classic 'What do you do?' cocktail party question and turned it into a website…minus the awkward small-talk."

I have been having a great time hosting my Zookeeper Q&A so far, and I have decided to reprint one of my favorite Jobstr questions on my blog every Tuesday. (Do you have your very own "Ask a Zookeeper" question for me? Ask it HERE!)

Here is this week's question:

Q. Has [an animal at your zoo] ever gone missing or escaped and did staff completely freak out? -nat

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
A: I have been fortunate enough to have never dealt with a large-scale animal escape. However, a few years before I started working at one particular facility, a bunch of kids broke in and cut the locks off a number of animal enclosures. The result was chaos, as you can imagine, but thankfully zoos have protocols for dealing with just such a situation.

Animals are basically categorized according to their threat level. Large carnivores and some other animals (like an elephant or a moose in rut) are considered the highest priority, of course. An emergency plan is developed the moment the zoo acquires this animal, and staff members are briefed on what to do should an emergency arise. (Evacuate the zoo, for instance, and then grab tranquilizer guns and attempt to corral the animal back where it belongs.) Training is also done to teach the animals how to react in unfamiliar situations, because the animals are often more frightened than the humans. Many animals know their crates are safe places, so zoo staff members often use positive reinforcement to entice them back into their crates. Finally, everyone attempts to keep his or her cool, because animals can often sense our stress.

In reality, we are half-terrified, but just like a first responder is trained to react to an emergency, we are, too. Our calm and focus is critical at a time like that.