Zoo Official Says Tufani Escape No "Olympian Leap," Blames Homo Sapien With Squeegee

Today, Tufani sat in the shade of the south gorilla habitat at the Dallas Zoo half-reclined, peacefully peeling an orange, seemingly unaware of the gaggle of media looking on from a zoo-approved observation point. It was a far cry from the "code-red" scene triggered on Saturday when the 180-pound gorilla made her James Bond-style escape from her holding area within the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center before the 19-year-old was taken down by with a tranquilizer dart shot by a zoo veterinarian.

According to Gregg Hudson, executive director of the Dallas Zoo, the gorilla was able to slip out of her "off-exhibit holding area" as the result of Homo sapien error.

"This was plain and simple a human error," Hudson said at today's press conference, and he and other zoo officials frequently reiterated that the human element led to the incident and not "structural or exhibit failure" or some "Olympian leap" on the part of the gorilla.

Hudson also hammered home the point that Tufani never left the exhibit-proper or gained access to any public areas, stressing that the public was never in danger because the zoo was closed Saturday while the staff removed debris left by Thursday's record snowfall.

So, basically, Saturday's incident was no Jabari rampage of '04.

But, today, well, from the start, the press conference was exactly what we joked about: a field trip.

After herding the media swarm into an auditorium for the press conference, before Hudson launched into the presser, he paused to introduce Dr. Lynn Krammer, the director of animal conservation and science, and Doug Dykman, the director of facilities and operations, as well as the zoo's safety officer.

Hudson then provided a quick rundown of the events that transpired on Saturday.

"We had a zookeeper that, as you saw in the press release, inadvertently opened a door that should have been secured, and unfortunately Tufani was able to slip out into an area she wasn't supposed to be," Hudson said. "But the good part about that was that all the secondary containments, all the procedures and safety things that we have in place kept that from being any more than what it was, which was an animal in the wrong place. And we were quickly able to get her back into her holding area."

And, after Hudson and Krammer explained the events and took a few questions, we were whisked outside where two of the zoo's over-sized golf carts waited to shuttle the press back to the Wilds of Africa portion of the zoo for a tour of the area where Tufani made her escape attempt.

It seems that there were only two zookeepers inside the facility at the time, and when one zookeeper unlocked and opened the gate to "Bedroom 1" Tufani was perched about 10 feet above the entrance on a narrow ledge. And, in the seconds that the zookeeper took to grab a squeegee, Tufani dropped down and made a break for it into the hall.

Both zookeepers escaped to secure areas within the building -- one in the office and the other in the kitchen, where one of the zookeepers called in the code red.

"From the beginning, once this thing started, everything went textbook after that," Dr. Todd Bowsher, the director of animal operations, told Unfair Park during the media's tour of the off-exhibit holding area. Bowsher said the zoo's staff was informed of the code red in "less than a minute."

In fact, the zoo seems pretty pleased with itself, because once the code-red call went squawking over the walkie-talkies, the zoo's Emergency Response Team, which included six SWAT-trained employees armed with rifles and three others with tranquilizers, followed safety procedures and protocol according to plan. After Tufani managed to dodge a first shot, one veterinarian tagged her with a second tranquilizer dart, causing her to scream and pass out within minutes.

After the code red was called in at 10:35 a.m., the incident was wrapped up in just more than an hour as Tufani was fully sedated and placed in a recovery area at 12:11 p.m. And, today, she was back in action as if nothing had ever happened.

The zookeeper who failed to follow procedure when grabbing the squeegee, however, has been suspended pending final actions and recommendations by the zoo's Major Incident Review Committee.

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Daniel Rodrigue
Contact: Daniel Rodrigue