This could be the plot of a new movie … or the start of a sci-fi-becoming-reality revolution. A gang of chimpanzees at the Belfast Zoo took advantage of some fallen branches to build a ladder and scale the wall around their living quarters. Is this an accident, a lesson … or a warning?
“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?”
What happens if it begins speaking, demands that the rest of the animals be released and calls for an end to meat-eating or the big kid gets peeled like a banana … which they don’t like anyway despite what you filthy humans think? A better movie, but fortunately (maybe) not what happened this past weekend after four chimps found trees knocked down by a storm, leaned them up against a wall and climbed them to freedom. Cue the triumphant John Williams score.
“Don’t escape, you bad little gorilla.”
That’s not exactly an expression of terror, Mister Screenwriter, but it’s what a little girl commented in the video of the escape (see the video and photos here) which was posted on social media, much to the chagrin of Belfast Zoo officials who experienced their second escape in just two weeks. A red panda bolted when an electrical fence was disabled during a power failure. That creature was captured after roaming the streets of Belfast – possibly trying to convince stupid humans that it was not related to pandas at all but in fact is a rare and endangered species. Perhaps this is the escape that should be made into a movie, since it follows another red panda escape in 2017 from a zoo in Norfolk, Virginia. Should the defiant Ailurus fulgens (“don’t call us pandas”) and angry chimps (“don’t call us monkeys”) join forces next time?
“They’re intelligent primates and know they’re not supposed to be out of their enclosure, so got back in themselves.”
That’s what Belfast zookeeper Alyn Cairns hopes local residents believe – that the chimps knew they did something wrong and returned to their prison rather than realizing they did something right and upped their demands. It’s not that farfetched – in 2018, researchers discovered white-faced capuchins in Panama using stone tools as hammers to open nuts and shellfish, and another group in Japan taught chimpanzees how to play the human game rock-paper-scissors. Have primates entered their own Stone Age? Are we accelerating their evolution? Isn’t that a violation of the Prime Directive? Should we be mixing movie metaphors?
“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.”
Cue the sinister music as the humans dance and sing about how superior they are while the chimps tap messages to each other in their dark cages and plot their next move.
Are these escapes, coupled with the new evidence of primate intelligence, a sign that maybe it’s time we put an end to zoos and instead returned some of the land we’ve taken back to our fellow Earth creatures?
Or are they a warning of something worse?