Watch Zookeepers 'Shoot' Man in Chimp Suit During Bizarre Training Exercise
Some zoos go to outrageous lengths to prepare for escaped animals, as one park in Japan showed during an Escaped Animal Drill conducted this week.
A zookeeper wearing a large chimpanzee costume was chased, shot with a simulated tranquilizer dart and captured in a net at Tama Zoological Park in Tokyo earlier this week.
The drama, captured on video by Rodrigo Reyes Marin and Naoki Nishimura of Nippon News, was all part of an Escaped Animal Drill meant to train staff on how to react should an actual zoo animal escape. Drills like this happen annually at zoos, not only in Japan, but also in many other countries, including the United States.
"Live-action emergency drills must be conducted at least once annually at accredited member zoos of Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) for each of the four basic types of emergency: fire, weather or other environmental emergency appropriate to the region, injury to visitor or paid/unpaid staff, and animal escape," Rob Vernon, spokesperson for the AZA, told Seeker.
He clarified that "four separate drills are required each year" to cover each of the emergency categories, and many zoos conduct even more for good measure.
Zoos are permitted a certain amount of creative freedom when organizing the events.
"I'm not sure if zookeepers dress in animal suits as part of their drills here in the U.S., but anecdotally I've heard that a staff member may play the part of an escaped animal and wear a big sign saying 'TIGER,' 'GORILLA,' 'LION,' or the name of some other animal," Vernon said.
Some zoos in China and Japan turn the required drills into popular public displays. At Tama, for example, crowds of people with cameras looked on as the costumed zookeeper made his "escape" from the primate enclosure. He menacingly lumbered through the zoo before increasing his pace to a fast run.
He then attacked another zookeeper, who looked to take a hard fall on concrete. A team of staff wielding sticks came to the individual's rescue, using their weapons to hit the ground and causing the "chimp" to move away from his victim. Multiple uniformed staff next lined up, and with a large net, surrounded the faux escapee.
Once cornered, the chimp was shot with a tranquilizer gun before capture.
Chimps are not the only animals to receive such training treatment. Last year, Ueno Zoo's drill starred a zookeeper dressed as a giant zebra. Some 150 zookeepers took part in that particular training exercise.
While these events can look pretty silly, they do allow zoo staff to practice and fine-tune their emergency procedures. Luckily, wild animals do not often escape their enclosures.
"The number for AZA zoos is very low," Vernon said. "About a half dozen animals escape from AZA-accredited zoos each year, and the majority do not wind up in public areas. If an animal does manage to escape, it is usually for a short amount of time."
There are exceptions, however rare. For example, Ollie - a female bobcat - escaped from the National Zoo at the end of last month. She apparently did not stray too far, however, as she was found safe a few days later right on National Zoo property, lingering around a bird house.
A red panda, "Sunny," is still missing from Norfolk's Virginia Zoo. Like Ollie, Sunny escaped at the end of last month, but as of this writing has unfortunately not been found.
Just 19 months old, little Sunny would not require as much manpower to subdue as Tama's faux chimp, but emergency procedures would still have to be adhered to should she be discovered.
Top photo: Staff at Tokyo Zoo during a 2/7/17 security drill. A man dressed as a chimpanzee and pretended to attack and escape during the drill. Credit: YouTube still