- Meet the Andean bear who just doesn’t want to stay put.
You don’t always need an animal-obsessed weirdo to break zoo animals out of their enclosures. Some cunning beasts manage to do it entirely on their own.
Take, for example, Ben. He’s an Andean bear who lives in the St. Louis Zoo.
Or at least he’s supposed to. Yet, Ben may not be entirely happy with its surroundings, considering he’s escaped within one month.
His second journey to the outside world resulted in the zoo going into lockdown. Fortunately for Ben and everyone else, both of his adventures proved short-lived and he was soon safely returned to his enclosure.
Until he gets out for the third time, that is.
Run into the Trees!
Ben’s first escape happened on February 7. Around 8 a.m., zoo staff noticed that Ben had disappeared from his enclosure.
This escape happened outside of the zoo’s operating hours, so there was no need for a full shutdown. Nonetheless, the staff initiated an emergency protocol, as they are trained to do.
It proved surprisingly difficult to locate the 300-pound bear. But eventually, staffers spotted Ben near the zoo’s River’s Edge area enjoying a brisk morning bath.
The staffers prepared to tranquilize Ben, but the bear wasn’t having any of that. Sensing he had some company, he retreated into a nearby wooded area.
Smart bear. It’s a lot harder to get shot with trees in the way.
Yet, Ben’s further escape attempts were unsuccessful. The staffers soon had him in their sights and Ben fell asleep, aided by a tranquilizer dart.
With Ben snoozing, the staff could drag the unconscious bear back to his enclosure. A medical check confirmed that he hadn’t sustained any injuries and was fine as soon as he woke up.
All in all, Ben’s adventure lasted around 90 minutes. He came back home right in time for the zoo’s opening — although the first visitors had to contend with seeing a sedated, groggy bear.
Security footage showed that Ben had been playing with the steel mesh surrounding his enclosure. The bear’s weight snapped one of the cables, creating a hole just large enough for Ben to squeeze through.
Strolling Among the Visitors
The zoo took Ben’s first escape as a lesson to improve its security measures.
“We actually added some stainless-steel clips that are used on cargo ships that have a tensile strength of about 450 pounds. We thought that would do it,” said St. Louis Zoo director Michael Macek.
It didn’t. On February 23, Ben escaped again.
This time, he got out of his habitat around 1 p.m. — in the middle of the zoo’s business hours. Visitors were the first to notice that Ben was roaming free.
“We actually called it in. [Zoo staff] showed up maybe two minutes later,” said Drew Wilson, who was visiting the zoo at the time.
Despite being free among the guests, Ben didn’t appear to be dangerous to anyone.
“The bear was very calm the whole time we saw him. Just looked like he was having fun,” Wilson mused.
Yet, to be on the safe side, the staff put the zoo on lockdown. Visitors and staff members not chasing Ben were corralled indoors to wait for the situation to clear.
So, where was Ben? Where else — he returned to the River’s Edge area. He didn’t manage to escape into the trees this time, though. After a well-aimed dart shot, Ben was back in another enclosure within an hour of his escape.
Never Happened Before
Although Ben seems intent on leaving the zoo, there’s a good reason he is there. Andean bears are a vulnerable species that is threatened by poaching and loss of habitat to urbanization, farming, and logging.
Ben is staying at the St. Louis Zoo as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Andean Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSPs aim to preserve threatened animal populations by keeping individuals in zoos so they can breed and carry on their lineage.
But why does Ben keep escaping? Is there something bothering him in his enclosure?
No, according to Macek. He said Ben is just “very curious” and likes to fiddle with anything he gets his paws on.
He also seems to be blessed with extraordinary smarts. Macek said that the zoo has used the kinds of enclosures Ben has since 2016.
Never before has a bear managed to escape them. But now, Ben has done it twice within a month.
Clearly, the zoo needs to come up with some specific anti-Ben measures. Considering he keeps returning to the River’s Edge, perhaps they should build him his own little river.