A mother of three has described her shock at coming across a chimpanzee outside its enclosure at Belfast Zoo.
Chantal Baxter, from Larne, said “one of the big chimpanzees just appeared from behind a bush”.
Footage posted on social media shows a chimpanzee on a path with members of the public, with several others remaining on the enclosure wall.
Belfast Zoo said the chimpanzees made an improvised ladder from a large tree branch propped up against a wall.
This is the second escape attempt by animals at Belfast Zoo in as many months.
In January, a red panda which escaped the zoo was found in a garden in Newtownabbey.
Mrs Baxter said she and her family were heading towards the zoo exit on Saturday afternoon when they met a young couple who said the chimpanzees had escaped.
When the chimpanzee showed up near them, she added, her youngest child shouted.
“I think she scared it and it did sort of make its way back up the hill,” she said.
“But there were four of them that we could see were out. There was one on the path and there were three of them sitting on the wall.
“We were a bit shocked, obviously, being approached by this big chimpanzee. The kids were shocked.
“I suppose now it’s easy to think it was funny but it was quite dangerous.”
Belfast City Council, which runs the zoo, said one chimpanzee “briefly” left its enclosure.
“Zookeepers were present as the chimpanzee quickly returned from an adjacent wall to the rest of the group inside the enclosure,” a spokeswoman said.
“Belfast Zoo would like to thank members of the public who helped raise the alarm as zookeepers moved in to return the animal to its enclosure.”
The zoo’s Alan Cairns said: “We think what has happened is that the trees in their enclosure have been weakened by the storms and so they’ve been able to break them and use them as a ladder to get out.
He said the zoo’s chimps were “quite cowardly” so went back into their enclosure themselves during the incident.
When the keepers arrived one was on the wall of the enclosure and none were out of it, he added.
“They’re intelligent primates and know they’re not supposed to be out of their enclosure, so got back in themselves,” he said.
“We like things to be natural in their enclosure, to have trees in it, but we will review it.
“We may have to remove the trees or make them a smaller level, although we don’t want to do that.”
The chimpanzees were locked into their inner enclosure afterwards.
- Chimpanzees are one of four types of “great ape” – the others being bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans
- Humans and chimpanzees share 95% to 98% of the same DNA
- Chimpanzees walk on all fours and have longer arms than legs
- Chimpanzees sometimes hunt and eat small mammals such as bushbuck or monkeys
- They also eat fruit, nuts, seeds, blossoms, leaves, and many kinds of insects
- A full-grown chimpanzee has five or six times the strength of a human being
Source: Jane Goodall Institute UK