Welcome to another installment of Gizmodo’s Animal Crime of the Week, an exploration of animals and their mischievous behavior. Let’s talk about the Great Ape Escape of 2019, when a band of chimpanzees at the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland brazenly scampered to the edge of freedom.
The incident took place on February 9, 2019, in full view of the public. The chimpanzees used broken-off tree branches—which were likely weakened by a recent storm—to construct a rudimentary but sturdy ladder against one of the enclosure walls. Several of the chimps then hoisted themselves up and on top of the wall. Several videos of the escape still exist on social media, particularly one in which a little girl admonishes the “gorillas” for their brazen criminal activity.
Alas, the chimps’ freedom was not to be. One of the apes reportedly did leave the enclosure for a short time and even approached human zoo goers, but it only observed them and soon returned to the enclosure; the other chimps seemed to only stay on the wall for a brief while before heading back.
“I was petrified, obviously, having the kids, and I tried not to show fear but inside I was a bit like: what happens if it attacks us or tries to take the kids or runs over?” zoo patron Danielle Monaghan told the BBC at the time. “But we just had to stay calm. It may have been a different story if it had been aggressive but it absolutely wasn’t. It made us feel at ease. We just walked past it and it was absolutely grand.”
What made this escape all the weirder is that it was the second to have occurred at that zoo in recent weeks. In late January 2019, an apparent power failure of the surrounding electric fence allowed a young red panda cub named Amber to break out of her confines. Unlike the chimps, Amber escaped the zoo entirely, though she was found the next day in a residential area a mile or so out and safely returned.
The zoo seemingly hasn’t had any major escapes since then. But if anyone’s looking for some crack creature commandos for the next remake of the A-Team, the Belfast Zoo should have plenty to offer.