Follow-up news item, 12/18/98

Special Report forwarded to the Animal Attack Files by "Sean", a professional animal worker in New Orleans:

Dallas Zoo gorilla escapes from cage, attacks keeper 

Bitten worker listed as stable; primate tranquilized after food frenzy


By Rick Klein / The Dallas Morning News 
Report of  November 29, 1998 

A gorilla escaped from his cage at the Dallas Zoo on Saturday morning, ttacked a keeper and romped through a zoo building before being tranquilized, zoo officials said. 

Jennifer McClury, a 25-year-old zookeeper, was listed in stable condition at Methodist Medical Center late Saturday with several bites and cuts to her thighs and arms, a hospital spokeswoman said. 

Zoo director Rich Buickerood said officials are still trying to learn how Hercules, a 33-year-old, 340-pound male gorilla, got out. 

"God knows what could have happened," he said. "This thing is a fortress. There's nothing left to chance." 

Mr. Buickerood said Hercules never posed a danger to zoo visitors. Although he was out of his cage, he was unable to leave the night quarters building used to house gorillas adjacent to the zoo's Jake C. Hammon Gorilla Conservation Research Center. 

Ms. McClury had been feeding animals and cleaning the gorillas' indoor area about 9:30 a.m. when she was attacked. Hercules apparently had gotten out of his cage before Ms. McClury came to work. 

A volunteer worker, alerted by other gorillas that were making loud noises, saw Ms. McClury huddled in a corner and noticed that Hercules was in the hallway that runs between cages, an area gorillas do not have access to, Mr. Buickerood said. The volunteer went to another room to secure himself inside and contacted authorities, he said. 

Ms. McClury had gotten out of the hallway before emergency medical personnel arrived.  

For a while after Ms. McClury was taken away, Hercules continued running wild laps in the hall, Mr. Buickerood said. He ate about three days worth of food from a cart in the kitchen off of the hallway, according to Dr. Kathryn Gamble, a zoo veterinarian. 

"He was very much in control of the situation," Dr. Gamble said. "He really was very interested in food." 

After more than an hour, Hercules calmed down enough so that zoo officials could attempt to tranquilize him. Dr. Gamble said she used an air rifle to shoot a chemical-filled dart into his thigh about 11 a.m. 

"I was able to dart him through a hole we drilled in the Plexiglass window," she said.  

Hercules began to show the effects of the drug within minutes, and he was safely back in his cage by 11:30 a.m., Dr. Gamble said. The area directly around the gorilla complex was kept clear of visitors for a short while after the initial call came in, but that was just a precaution, he said. 

"We've never had an incident occur where one of these guys [gorillas] has gotten loose in the zoo," Mr. Buickerood said. "The staff handled it very very well. ... The building worked like it's supposed to." 

Zoo officials will spend the next few days trying to determine how Hercules escaped, Mr. Buickerood said. They are also puzzled by the unusual behavior from the normally tranquil gorilla, he said. 

"The little guys normally run right over him," Mr. Buickerood said. "He's usually a pussycat."  

Hercules may take a day or two to recover fully from the tranquilizer shot, Dr. Gamble said. When he comes to, she said, the petulant primate will regret his monkey-biscuit feast. 

"He'll have a good case of indigestion," Dr. Gamble said

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