Mischievous Ape to Blame for Tiger's Weekend Escape in Miami
"Watson climbed into the tiger's cage and startled him," Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, tells PEOPLEPets.com. "So the tiger leaped up, chased Watson and then scaled his 12-foot fence. He wanted to [climb] on top of his cage but he fell and landed on the other side of the tall fence where the people were standing."
As Mahesh roamed free, hundreds of visitors scrambled for safety. According to Ashley Serrate, a spokesperson for Jungle Island, the people were quickly taken to a secure indoor facility while the 3-year-old tiger remained loose for about 20 minutes.
Mahesh, who was born in a South Carolina sanctuary and has lived at Jungle Island for two years, appeared mostly uninterested in the people around him. "Other than a few scrapes [incurred by] visitors running to get away from Mahesh, no one was hurt," Serrate says. "Mahesh has been raised by humans all of his life and was more interested in chasing Watson than in going after any of the people at the park."
Although trainers had a gun and animal tranquilizers at the ready, they never found it necessary to fire. Mahesh simply prowled around the grounds and then willingly re-entered his cage on his own.
Zoo officials have closed down the tiger exhibit – which includes two other female tigers – and are now trying to determine how the gibbon was able to escape his own enclosure.
"Investigators have told us it could be a combination of human error and a mechanical malfunction [involving] the lock on the first of two doors of Watson's cage," says Serrate, who notes that the mischievous primate is "back where he belongs."
Pino says the investigators have indicated that the tiger's enclosure will have to be expanded to 14 feet, with an additional 4-foot overhang, to ensure that he does not escape again. The overhaul could take two months.
"This was a totally abnormal situation," Pino says. "We thought the current tiger enclosure requirements were okay. Now we are taking extra precautions for safety. And we are so glad no one was hurt."
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