L.A. Zoo Wrestles WIth Gorilla Escapes

ByABC News
December 18, 2000, 4:05 PM

Dec. 18 -- Whats more trouble than a barrel of monkeys? An outdated and run-down zoo enclosure filled with restless gorillas.

The Los Angeles Zoo is desperate to renovate its aging gorilla habitat, which was originally intended to house bears. The space has proven inadequate to contain two of its resourceful residents, Evelyn and Jim, who have each broken out numerous times.

Evelyn, a 24-year-old female who is the habitats premier escape artist, has made it out at least four or five times over the years.

Shes jumped on one of her companions backs to climb over the exhibit wall, and, most recently, used a stray vine to swing across the 12-foot-wide moat.

Shes opportunistic, says Michael Dee, the zoos curator. The habitats walls have been raised repeatedly, but the primates have been up to the challenge.

On her last escape it would appear that a vine ... had somehow gotten within her reach, says Dee, describing an incident last October.

She got a running jump and managed to get over.

Visiting the Giraffes, Swatting BottomsEvelyn spent her hour and a half of free time taking a look at the giraffes and elephants. After failing to lure her back into the enclosure with snacks, zookeepers tagged her with a tranquilizer dart and the 175-pound female fell unconscious in a mens restroom.

On a previous escape attempt, she swatted a bystanders bottom, says Dee.

Evelyns partner in crime is 12-year-old Jim, who on one occasion ripped a door off its tracks and squeezed through the opening to escape. On another, the 350-pound male jumped straight over a 12-foot-wall.

Federal officials in November gave the zoo one year to secure its gorilla exhibits or face sanctions.

The zoos private support group has raised $5 million towards a new gorilla habitat that will recreate a tropical African environment, but the remaining $2 million needed for construction has been elusive. Zoo officials cant say when the endangered apes will be able to move into a habitat actually designed for them.