Babu and Rani checked out of home — in true Dunston style — for half an hour on Wednesday afternoon. They roamed the grounds of Alipore Zoological Gardens, causing visitors to take to their heels.
“A male chimpanzee called Babu and a female called Rani escaped from their enclosure around 3pm after breaking open the lock,” said S.K. Chaudhuri, the director of Alipore zoo. “We fielded 25 zoo employees, including veterinarians, to chase the chimpanzees back into their enclosure.”
The zoo has four chimpanzees, with Babu and Rani as live-in partners. Witnesses alleged that a visitor had thrown a stone at one of the two chimpanzees, angering them. Babu and Rani started rattling the locked gate to their enclosure till the lock broke and they stepped out.
Swinging from branch to branch, the chimpanzees first crossed the giraffe enclosure, causing them to panic and run around in circles. One of the chimpanzees then landed among some visitors and allegedly pushed one woman and scratched another.
Kanan Das, 65, was the first ‘victim’ of the chimp attack, between the enclosure of the primates and that of the birds. “Everyone started running, but I was unable to move. One of the chimpanzees then pushed me to the ground,” she recounted. When her daughter-in-law Pompa, 42, tried to lend a helping hand the chimpanzee scratched her. “I was so scared! I had to take an injection,” said Pompa.
Director Chaudhuri claimed that the chimpanzees had not attacked anyone. “I have not heard of any such incident and I was on the spot till they were led back into the enclosure,” he said, adding that the chimpanzees must have managed to damage the lock by constantly shaking the gate.
“Animals feel disoriented on leaving their home. Babu and Rani were terrified after they left their enclosure and strayed into the crowded zoo,” said Chaudhuri. The crowd count on the winter Wednesday touched 8,000.
On December 22, 1997, a chimpanzee had managed to slip out of its enclosure and stay out the whole day. It was finally tranquillised and taken back to its enclosure.
The management board of the zoo will meet to discuss the incident. The director will suggest the use of two locks instead of one and a chain to secure the gate better. The board will also discuss methods to prevent visitors from throwing food and other articles into the enclosures. Most enclosures bear the sign “do not tease or feed wild animals”, but many visitors take a perverse pleasure in doing precisely that.