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Oklahoma City Zoo chimpanzee spends two hours in dry moat

A chimpanzee slipped past an electric fence and into an empty cement moat around his enclosure at the Oklahoma City Zoo on Monday afternoon. The chimp was never a threat to the public, but zoo officials called a precautionary emergency alert.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL AND MICHAEL KIMBALL Modified: August 31, 2010 at 5:36 am •  Published: August 31, 2010

Mwami wasn't in a rush to climb out of the ditch Monday afternoon.

His fellow chimpanzees at the Oklahoma City Zoo had chased him up a tree, screeching and swinging at him. He took a flying leap onto the ground, disappeared over the hill and somehow wound up in a giant, empty cement moat that circles his habitat.

Zoo staff issued an emergency alert as soon as the wayward chimp was seen out of his exhibit. Visitors were sent inside buildings and off zoo grounds.

"He took his time, coming out of the moat, Executive Director Dwight Scott said. "He appeared to enjoy it down in the moat."

His great escape from the "Great EscApe" exhibit was more of a two-hour time-out.

Even though the chimp could not escape the moat, officials issued a "code red," the highest-level security alert at the zoo. It is issued when a dangerous animal is out or has the potential to be out of its exhibit, Scott said.

No one was hurt, and all the animals are healthy. Zoo guests were never in danger, he said. About 70 guests left the zoo, all given free tickets for a future visit.

Mwami is the dominant male in the group. Sometimes the group will revolt against him if he pushes his leadership boundaries too far, Scott said.

The troop chased Mwami up a tree about noon. Zookeepers heard the screaming and fighting and saw Mwami jump to the ground and disappear, Scott said. Then they spotted him in the moat.

Keepers aren't sure if he fell, jumped or was pushed into the moat. They're also unsure how he slipped past an electric fence between the chimps' grassy exhibit and the cement ravine.

Ron Burkard, 70, of Oklahoma City, said he was at the ape exhibit Monday afternoon when he noticed a commotion within the chimp troop.

"They were trying to bite each other and pulling at each other. We watched it for about 10 minutes," Burkard said. "Finally, he either came down or was knocked down. ... Then security came and called a 'code red.'"

Burkard said zoo security workers told him the chimp had been knocked into the dry moat, and they started asking visitors to leave.

"Then all kinds of security, (news) helicopters and guys with rifles showed up," Burkard said.

The zoo's emergency response team includes a firearms team and a vet crew ready with sedative darts. Team members were perched near the moat, ready to react, Scott said. Thankfully, he said, it was unnecessary.

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