Monday, August 30, 2010

Small Ape Triggers Tiger Escape At Jungle Island

Watson, a small, 8-year-old ape, was known for being a bit mischievous.

But when he sneaked out of his cage at Jungle Island on Saturday, Watson set off a chain of events straight out of a thriller movie:

A 500-pound Bengal tiger leapt over a tall fence, dozens of frantic visitors ran for their lives, and park workers labored to lure the predatory animal back into a holding cage.

``I might have shouted a bunch of cuss words after the first millisecond of shock,'' said Dr. Jason Chatfield, Jungle Island's curator. ``But after that, you go back into action.''

A day after the frenzy, it became increasingly clear that Watson had triggered the unusual sequence of events at the Watson Island animal park.

Visitors continued to trickle through Jungle Island's doors on Sunday -- though Mahesh and another tiger were not on display. The pair are being kept in holding cells while an investigation continues to determine how Mahesh was able to scale over the 14-foot fence. No one was injured by the male tiger.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said that the agency closed down the tiger exhibit ``until the facility makes certain changes to its caging requirements so that this doesn't happen again.''

The investigation is looking into the escapes of both Mahesh and Watson. ``We're investigating escaped captive wildlife, which is a violation of the law,'' Pino said. ``It is fair to say someone would be found responsible.''

``It's very important to figure out exactly what happened, to design it so that it doesn't happen again,'' Chatfield said, noting that Watson Island park's 14-foot fence was already two-feet higher than required by law.

Saturday's series of events started around noon when the white-handed gibbon, a species of ape native to Southeast Asia, escaped from his pen. A team of four animal handlers attempted to wrangle the precocious primate, Chatfield said, but he soon made his way to the tall, fenced area enclosing the tigers.

Watson's presence sparked the interest of Mahesh, who became ``excited'' and chased Watson around as he made his way across the chain-link fence.

Though he didn't have a full view of how the tiger made it so far up the fence, Chatfield said he likely lunged, gaining enough momentum to reach the top, where he eventually fell over it.

``It didn't charge a single person,'' Chatfield said. ``There was no interest in the people, maybe a passing interest. He was really after the gibbon, because it was something he'd never seen.''

Full story here.

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