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Sneaky Sea Lions and Humbolt Penguin Houdinis: 8 Famous Zoo Escapes

One of zoos’ top priorities is to ensure that their animals remain safely inside their enclosures. Despite fencing, barricades, locked doors, and moats, some animals manage to make a great escape—initiating a rapid response from zoo stakeholders to locate the animals and return them to their environment without causing additional harm.

Here are eight animal escapes from history that have made a lasting impression.

Ben’s Bold Behavior

Ben was just a curious boy. The Andean bear meddled with the steel mesh of his outdoor enclosure at the Saint Louis Zoo in St. Louis, Missouri, on 7 February 2023, causing a cable to give way and allowing him to work his way out to wander along the River’s Edge habitat of the zoo. The zoo initiated its Animal Emergency Response protocol, securing Ben’s habitat, tranquilizing him, and returning him to an indoor holding area.

The zoo then upped Ben’s security—adding stainless steel cargo clips to his enclosure—before allowing him back outside. But it wasn’t enough to contain him. After Ben’s second escape, zoo officials decided to relocate him to Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where his new home features an old, but impactful, security feature: a moat.

Evelyn’s Escapades

In the early 2000s, western lowland gorilla Evelyn took advantage of the Los Angeles Zoo’s need for a renovation by escaping her enclosure not once, not twice, but at least four times. Her escapades leveraged the fact that her habitat was designed to house bears, not great apes. For instance, she jumped on a fellow gorilla’s back to launch herself over an exhibit wall and on another occasion, used a vine to cross the enclosure’s moat.

“For about an hour and 15 minutes, Evelyn, who was born in the zoo, poked flowers, swatted at butterflies, played hide and seek with anxious zoo keepers, and even went for a stroll to see orangutans, giraffes, and elephants,” according to her 2022 Los Angeles Times obituary.

Honshu Hits the Highlands

Rumor has it that to avoid a fight with other monkeys during breeding season, Japanese macaque Honshu fled the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, Scotland, in January 2024. Villagers in Kincraig spotted Honshu in a garden and notified the zoo—initiating a manhunt to recapture the monkey. A team from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which manages the park, also used a popular security measure—a thermal imaging drone—to help locate Honshu.

“After a call to our hotline just after 10:00 a.m., our keepers and drone team made their way to a member of the public’s garden where the monkey was eating from a bird feeder, and successfully used a tranquilizer dart to catch him,” according to a statement from Keith Gilchrest, the park’s living collections operations manager, shared with AFP France.

The Humboldt’s Hiatus

He almost got away with it. A 1-year-old Humboldt penguin escaped the Tokyo Sea Life Park on 4 March 2012 without attracting notice, likely by scaling a rock wall. But the tuxedoed flightless bird caught the eye of a fellow zookeeper when he floated down the Old Edogawa River, prompting a count of the park’s flock and the realization that one of their penguins was on the lam.

Eighty-two days later, two zookeepers captured the Humboldt and returned it to the park.

“The keepers, who seized the penguin after it ventured on to the riverbank, said the animal did not appear to have been harmed and had been eating enough to keep its weight stable,” according to The Guardian.

Lions on the Loose

Slumber parties are a rite of passage for young people—creating bonding experiences that will hopefully cement friendships for a lifetime. But slumber partiers participating in the “Roar and Snore” program at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, got a little more excitement than they bargained for when four lion cubs and their father, Ato, squeezed under the fence of their enclosure at around 6:30 a.m. on 2 November 2022.

Zoo staff responded rapidly, waking the partygoers and ushering them to safety within 10 minutes while locking down the rest of the zoo. The adult lion and three cubs voluntarily returned to their enclosure via recall, while the emergency response team tranquilized the remaining cub before transporting it back to the den.

“Preliminary independent engineering advice has confirmed that swages (clamps that join wire cables together) failed, enabling a lacing cable that connects the fence mesh to a tension cable to unravel,” according to a statement from Taronga Zoo. “The lions were then able to create and squeeze through a gap.”

Rhesus Ride the Rails

Charles Selner had good intent. In October 1935, he went to the rhesus monkey enclosure at Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp on Long Island, New York, to clean. Selner used a wooden plank to cross from the exterior of the enclosure over a moat, and then he went to work, forgetting to pull the plank over with him. The monkeys took advantage of Selner’s lapse. Roughly 150 of them used the plank to cross the moat, leave the camp, and cross a set of Long Island Rail Road tracks.

“At 4 o’clock, an eastbound Long Island train, which had just left Massapequa for Seaford, shrieked to a stop near the camp,” according to a New York Times write-up of the incident. “Fifty of the rhesuses, chattering and having a grand time generally, were cavorting about the tracks. The motorman, who had heard about such things happening in India, cleared the tracks and proceeded after five minutes’ delay.”

Officials offered a reward—up to $50 per monkey—to people who helped return the rhesus monkeys to the park, but it’s unclear how many were repatriated.

Rusty’s Run for It

He was caught, red-handed. Washington, D.C.’s beloved red panda Rusty had just gone out on exhibit when he decided to explore beyond the bounds of his enclosure—leaving the National Zoological Park to visit the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood on the evening of 23 June 2013.


Zoo staff issued a Code Green and put out a call on social media for District residents to help locate Rusty—who was later found in a tree and rescued by zoo and Washington Humane Society staff. Rusty was later relocated to the Colorado Pueblo Zoo for mating purposes, leaving the East Coast and his red teaming ways behind him.

Sally Sails Away

Sally the sea lion was just going with the flow—swimming right out of her pool with the flood waters that rose in the Central Park Zoo during a storm in September 2023. Sally took the opportunity to explore the flooded zoo, before ultimately returning to her pool alongside her fellow sea lions as the waters receded.

The zoo was closed to the public in preparation for the storm, so staff was able to carefully monitor Sally’s expedition to ensure she remained on zoo property during her field trip. The incident highlighted the need for zoos to prepare for weather emergencies to keep staffers—and animals—safe during natural phenomena.


Megan Gates is senior editor of Security Management. Connect with her at [email protected] or on LinkedIn. Follow her on X or Threads: @mgngates.