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Orangutan 'Briefly Leaves Enclosure' at Sedgwick County Zoo

The Orangutan exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

Update: According to the Sedgwick County Zoo, it has been verified that a zoo guest had physical contact with the orangutan. The zoo guest stated that she "never felt that she was in danger or in any way threatened by the orangutan." According to a press release, the woman has asked to remain anonymous. The zoo says it will respect that request.

The investigation into the circumstances of the escape is ongoing.

Original story: The Sedgwick County Zoo was placed on lockdown Tuesday after an orangutan briefly escaped its enclosure and was in a public area. The 11-year-old Sumatran orangutan named Tao was a new female to the exhibit.

Ryan Gulker with the Sedgwick County Zoo said she apparently found a point of weakness in the heavy-gauge, stainless steel woven-wire mesh that surrounds the exhibit and made her way out of the enclosure.

"It looks like she maybe found that or was able to push it out or something and created a hole about the size of a volleyball," Gulker said. "In fact, after looking at the hole, I'm kind of surprised she could even fit through it."

According to zoo officials, a report came in from a guest of a possible orangutan escape around 10:00 a.m. Following the report, guests were escorted to places of safety and the zoo was secured. At a news conference, Gulker said that all the orangutans were secured indoors within 11 minutes. 

"[The orangutan] went for a little bit of a 'walk about,'" Gulker says. "We did hear a report that she went over to near the chimpanzees... and I think they were a little agitated at the time... and she went back through the bamboo back into her exhibit at that point."

The orangutan reportedly returned to the enclosure on her own a few minutes after the report of the escape. Gulker did not have information as to when the cage was last checked or when the ape may have actually left the enclosure.

"We consider orangutans, as a great ape, to be a potentially dangerous animal. So if an orangutan gets out like it did this morning, we would treat it as if it were a tiger, or a bear, or an elephant. We treat them all the same," he said. 

As part of the zoo's recapture protocol, Gulker said veterinarians were ready with a dart gun that is used to immobilize dangerous animals, but it was not needed since Tao returned home on her own. 

"We drill for potential dangerous animal escapes several times during the year. I was very proud of the zoo staff everyone responded as required. The zoo guests were escorted to safety; the veterinary department did their job. We had recovery teams in route. And we called 9-1-1," Gulker said. "We did everything that's listed in our protocol in a professional manner and it turned out in the right way."

The Sedgwick County Zoo has three female orangutans and one male in the Wichita exhibit, which will be evaluated for repairs to secure the area. Gulker says the apes will remain indoors. The outdoor area will be closed until further notice.

"We're going to look at the exhibit inside, outside, up and down with a microscope," he said.

Zoo officials plan to investigate the escape before any additional changes are made. Gulker said he's working to determine "what actually happened, how it happened, why it happened, and what we need to do to prevent in the future."

No guests, staff, or animals were harmed in the incident.

"The keepers are watching the female orangutan make sure she's OK, but she looks fine," Gulker said.


Follow Abigail Beckman on Twitter, @AbigailKMUW

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