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.
All the chimps were brought indoors and out of the exhibit while zoo staff worked to retrieve Mwami. Staff members went into the exhibit and cut down electric fencing installed along the edge of the dry moat. They draped a rope net from the fence on the north side of the exhibit.
Mwami was on the south side, so zookeepers needed to persuade him to turn around to the north, where the net had been placed.
Staff members sprayed fire extinguishers behind him. The unexpected sight and sound kept him from backtracking, Scott said. It's a common technique at zoos, though it's never been used in Oklahoma City.
"It's another step between doing nothing and darting an animal," he said.
To encourage him to keep going forward, his handlers lured him with some of his favorite treats, like grapes.
As a final draw, they offered him cotton candy, which isn't normally part of his diet at all, Scott said. But it worked.
Chimps have complex personalities
The chimp troops at the zoo likely will remain intact despite the squabble Monday, Scott said.
Chimps have complex personalities and strict social hierarchies. They can be tender and caring or volatile and aggressive, Scott said, and that's true for Mwami. His troop includes the youngest chimpanzee at the zoo: Zoe. Mwami fathered her two years ago.
As she has matured, so has Mwami. At first, he didn't care much about the baby. He has grown from a playmate to a comforter to a protector. If she's scared, he will run to her and reassure her with hugs. He is careful to protect her from harm. He lets her sit on his lap.
The troop appeared to be back to normal by Monday afternoon. Mwami mingled with the others and lounged around in the chimps' indoor habitat. The group likely will fight again some day, Scott said, and they'll likely forgive each other and move on.
"It is normal chimpanzee behavior," he said.
The chimps will remain indoors until their outdoor electric fence is repaired in the coming days.