From the Electronic Telegraph

Gorilla shot as fugitive seeks refuge at the zoo

Friday 19 July 1999

By Christopher Munnion in Johannesburg

A MOUNTAIN gorilla was shot and wounded yesterday as he grappled with a fleeing armed robber who jumped into his zoo enclosure.

The 28st 4lb primate, called Max, had emergency surgery for wounds to his neck and shoulder after the shoot-out between the suspect and the pursuing police and zoo guards. Max was back in his enclosure last night, "not in the best of moods but recovering well", according to a spokesman for Johannesburg Zoo. "It was a case of 'You ought to see the other guys'," said the spokesman. "Max mauled the suspect who shot him, and bit and mauled two policemen who were chasing him. He was very angry."

The incident began when a raider was surprised in the garage of a home in the Saxonwold district next to the zoo. The robber fled into the zoo grounds, followed by a police reaction unit. He ran to a viewing platform next to the gorilla enclosure and, as the police closed in, jumped down into the caged area where Max was paying court to his new companion, Lisa, another mountain gorilla.

"The suspect ducked inside the gorilla's night room and came face to face with Max," said Jaqui Thompson, the zoo spokesman. "It's difficult to say who was the more surprised but Max was feeling quite protective and grabbed the man, who shot him three times." The police also jumped into the enclosure. A gunfight ensued in which the robber was shot in the groin. Max, by now enraged, bit Constable Robert Tshabalala on his arm and buttocks, broke the arm of Sgt Rassie Rassenele and caused Constable Amos Simelane to break his ankle as he scrambled clear.

Zoo officials shot a tranquilliser dart into Max. The gorilla was taken to a nearby clinic and underwent emergency surgery. "He is recovering remarkably well, despite having one of the bullets still in his body," said Miss Thompson. "He'll be fine but a little confused by this dreadful human behaviour."

The injured policemen were treated at the same clinic. A police spokesman said they would "carry no grudge against Max". The robbery suspect, recovering from a serious gunshot wound and several injuries caused by Max, faces charges of malicious damage to property, pointing a firearm at police and cruelty to animals.

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