Local News

Gorilla exhibit reopens at N.C. Zoo

Posted June 15, 2010 11:50 a.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT

— An animal curator at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro said Tuesday that the likelihood that a gorilla could escape the facility's enclosure was extremely slim, despite video from the weekend that showed an animal reaching the top of a glass wall while spectators screamed.

Erica Bullins captured the scene on video Sunday before calling 911.

"Looking back, (I) probably should've just got out of there, but (I) was completely caught up in the moment," Bullins said.

The zoo closed the gorilla exhibit after the incident so workers could make sure it is secure.

In the video, a female gorilla uses a fallen branch as a ladder, then clings to the top of the wall. Tom Gillespie, a spokesman for the NC Zoo, said the branch was likely felled by high winds Saturday.

Zoo employees check the enclosures every day, Gillespie said, but may have overlooked a branch weakened by the storms with later fell. Horticulturists re-checked all the trees for loose branches Monday before reopening the gorilla habitat to visitors Tuesday afternoon.

Even if the gorilla had been able to reach the top of the wall, the animal, called Acacia, would have had a slim chance of escaping, said Ken Reininger, general curator of animal collections for the zoo.

He pointed out that the gorilla in the video is the zoo's smallest, weighing in at about 170 pounds. Any other gorilla likely would have been too heavy for the branch to hold.

The wall of the enclosure is topped with a ledge, invisible from the ground, that is electrified and  would likely have kept the gorilla from getting over the wall, Reininger said. Gorillas, especially females, are not aggressive and most likely to be shy around people, he added.

Reininger called Sunday's incident a "freak accident," but acknowledged that there is no way to predict what the animal might have done if she got loose.