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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

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.